I have always been of the opinion that there are two ways to learn from mistakes. Making your own is one way but the best way is learning from others mistakes. This topic is what we have learned from making our own mistakes. We all make mistakes and less than good decisions throughout our lives and possibly our choice of a power source for our homestead will enable others to make a better choice.
When we first built our home and considered whether we should go off grid or on grid we chose on grid. In retrospect that may have been the wrong decision. 20+ years ago solar was pricey and most components were then made in either Germany or Australia. We considered using a generator/inverter combination but that required more frequent maintenance coupled with the extensive deep cell battery back up. When we priced our options solar was far more expensive than other options available. We knew that prices would come down once solar became more popular and had increased demand but when factoring in the pay back period solar was out of our price range. Both solar and generator require considerable battery components which have to be replaced at regular intervals.
The generator option still required a fuel source, inverter, and a separate building where it could all be housed to muffle the sound and protect the equipment. It is nice and quiet in the mountains to the extent that even a muffled generator would be mildly annoying. It also required much more work which we didn’t believe we needed when all the other routine tasks were factored in by living in the mountains. We heat with a wood stove and that certainly requires a lot of work and we didn’t want to include the additional maintenance and work involved in generator power. Going on grid was the least expensive method and the pay back cost was the shortest of the three options. Installation was a little more costly because our community requires all utilities to be run underground but it was still much cheaper than the other two options at that time.
Lacking an accurate crystal ball we failed to consider the power outages that we would have to contend with by being on grid. While our electric service is underground the power lines that feed our area are above ground and run over the mountains. Therefore they are exposed to wind, falling trees and heavy wet snow which all create power outages. Sometimes getting to the break in the line is difficult for the repair crew in the winter. Most outages last only a half day or less but we have had a few that lasted several days. Another consideration we failed to factor in were the electric rate increases. We receive our electricity from a co-op but they have to purchase it from a larger energy producer. When that supplier raises their rate it is passed down the line to us consumers. We have had several increases in our rate with the latest one set at 8.75%. We did not look far enough into the future to recognize that this would likely happen or have the over all impact on our finances as it does. We jumped at the cheapest option available at the time which turned out to be not so economical in the long run. Had we gone solar, even at the high cost, our pay back would have occurred about now and we would not have to contend with rate increases or occasional outages.
Solar has now become a more affordable choice and from our friends who have installed solar we are told it is reliable and almost maintenance free. The only down side we have heard would be when it remains cloudy or storms for more than a day. Now when we consider the cost and reliability of solar it would have been a very cost effective choice even though priced higher than on grid costs. With the rate increases, which we have no control over, we now realize that going off grid may have been a more cost effective option. I have heard that some states are now considering taxing those who use solar. I’m not sure how they can get away with that since they do not own the sun.
Another factor to consider is what will be your usage. Our small cabin only uses lights, an infra red heater, a oil coil heater, energy saving kitchen appliances and small normal household appliances. We heat with a wood stove, and cook with propane. Our hot water heater is a 6 gallon heater which serves us well and requires very little energy. Even with small electrical usage having consistent rate increases and occasional power outages is distressing. It also seems our power outages are never simply restored but fluctuate between being on and off several times before they finally come on to stay. This means that our satellite TV system goes crazy and we are repeatedly resetting electric clocks. Knowing what we know now I believe we may have chosen differently for our power source initially had we spent more effort in looking ahead.
Photo courtesy of Leland Dirks.
For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and mountain living go to: www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com
The beginning of winter may not seem like the time to start thinking about becoming a beekeeper. However, if you are considering starting beekeeping this spring, now is the time to begin planning.
First, it is a good idea to get as much background information as you can. There are several ways to do this. Check out your local bee club – if you haven’t been attending meetings, this is a good time to start. See if they offer any sort of mentoring program or classes for beginning beekeepers. There are probably lots of people in the club who would love to talk to you about getting started in beekeeping. We were lucky enough to join a very active bee club when we first started beekeeping. We got great advice, had people to call when we had questions, and even got to attend a “beeyard visit”, where experienced beekeepers showed the “newbees” how to do a hive inspection.
Some colleges, universities, and beekeeping supply companies offer beekeeping classes. My husband took a beginner’s beekeeping class through Betterbee, a beekeeping supply company that is local to us, and I took a two day beekeeping class offered by Cornell University. If you are lucky enough to live close to one, this is another way to learn more about beekeeping.
Start reading! There are many great books on beekeeping for beginners out there. Two of our favorites when we were getting started are Beekeeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston, and The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum. These books are both full of great information on getting started in beekeeping, and are still a valuable reference for us.
Also consider subscribing to a beekeeping magazine such as Bee Culture and/or American Bee Journal. These are great resources as they have articles with current information for beekeepers on many different aspects of beekeeping and products of the hive. They also have question and answer sections, and calendars of events to keep you up to date on workshops, seminars, and other events that are taking place. You may also want to contact some beekeeping supply companies and request copies of their catalogues. This can help you to get a feel for what kind of equipment you may need, and how much you will need to spend.
While you are doing all of this background research, take some time to make sure that you have the right location to keep bees. Check into local ordinances to make sure beekeeping is allowed in your area. When deciding where to position hives, some factors you will need to consider are amount of sunlight, how windy or wet the location is, and how easily accessible it is for you. It’s also a good idea to keep the neighbors happy – make sure you can position your hives so the bees flight path isn’t right across your neighbors front yard. The books mentioned above have a lot of information on selecting a good location for an apiary, and keeping the neighbors happy.
Now is also the time to begin ordering and assembling your beekeeping equipment. You will need to decide what kind of safety clothing you would like to have. Some beekeepers use only a veil, while others prefer a jacket with an attached veil, or even a one piece beekeeping “suit”. Depending on your comfort level, you may want to consider ordering some sort of gloves, although many beekeepers prefer working without them. I highly recommend Velcro straps to seal off the bottom of your pant legs. When I first started beekeeping, I had more than one bee make its way up my pants or into my boots! You will probably also want to order hive tools, and a smoker. The hive tool allows you to pry apart the boxes on the beehive, and to remove the frames when the bees glue them together with propolis. They are also handy for removing a stinger if you happen to get stung. A smoker helps to keep the bees nice and calm while you are working in the hive, which makes everyone happier! You may also want to consider purchasing entrance reducers to help the new bees defend the hive entrance, and a sugar syrup feeder to provide them with food while they get established.
Additionally, you will need to purchase the hive bodies, stands, and frames. You will have a choice of wooden or polystyrene hives. We have some of each in our apiary, and find that each has pros and cons. The polystyrene provides more insulation, but in our area the wooden hives are cheaper. Shown here is a new wooden beehive.
You will also need to decide if you are going to use deep hive bodies for the brood, or use all medium hive bodies. We started out using a deep on each hive, but quickly realized that the deep hive bodies can become extremely heavy. We now use all medium hive bodies, as they are much easier for us to lift. Again, a lot of this is personal preference. Talk to people, check out their hives, and get an idea of what you would like to try. Remember that these hives will need to be assembled and the outside painted or finished to protect them from the elements before you can install bees in them.
And finally, don’t forget the bees! Again, you have many different options for purchasing bees. Bees can be ordered as packages or as “nucs” – short for nucleus colonies. Packages of bees arrive in a small, screened box with a queen, several thousand workers, and a can of sugar syrup. Packages tend to be cheaper than nucleus colonies. A package of bees is shown in the picture to the left. Nucleus colonies, or “nucs”, are a small hive. When you buy a nucleus colony, you get a queen, several thousand workers, and around 5 frames of honey, pollen, and brood. Nucleus colonies are more expensive, but they build up very quickly, as they already have a head start on building comb and raising brood. Our experience is that our nucleus colonies tend to build up much faster, and have a much better survival rate, than the packaged bees we have purchased. We also buy our nucleus colonies from local beekeepers whenever possible. The bees have been raised in this area are adapted to local conditions and tend to have a better survival rate for us. However, in our area, nucleus hives tend to sell out by January or February, so we really need to plan ahead.
Getting started in beekeeping does take a lot of planning and preparation. Waiting until the last minute to get ready can lead to a lot of frustration and unnecessary mistakes. By getting started now, you will be better prepared and confident for a successful start to beekeeping!
Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband Keith. You can visit them at www.beesofthewoods.com.
How does a small beekeeping operation get all that sweet honey goodness out of the comb?
There are two basic ways to remove honey from the cells of the honey comb. The drip or squeeze method and spinning it out in a centrifuge extractor.
For a beekeeper with only one Langstroth style hive the drip method may suffice. Cut off the wax cappings and lay the frame over a container. After a few hours, the honey will have dripped out of the cells. Repeat with the other side. To harvest a top bar hive, cut off the honey comb, place in several layers of cheesecloth and squeeze. This is slow but economical in terms of tools and machinery. The only investment is a sharp knife and some cheesecloth. This is the cheapest route to honey on your toast.
At Five Feline Farm, the drip method is too slow. We are not a big operation, but have no patience for hours of dripping honey. To process anything over four or six frames, (about half of one super) a mechanical method of extraction is preferred. Beekeeping supply companies sell extractors that will support anything from a small hobby operation to a large commercial enterprise. All well and good but since we were just getting started, we did not want to invest in an expensive extractor. Off to the Internet for a solution.
A Google search turned up an ingenious piece of work I wish I had thought of first. HoneySpinner.com sells a unique product for about half the cost of the smallest unit at a major beekeeping supply company. This honey spinner is perfect for a small operation. Essentially the unit is made of buckets, PVC and a few pieces of wood. A cordless drill provides power. The system will spin two frames at a time, although each has to be turned around halfway through spinning to extract the opposite side. The honey drips down the sides into the bottom bucket that is fitted with a nylon filter. The company has improved the design slightly since we purchased by adding a honey gate to the collection reservoir.
Our honey harvesting now goes something like this:
About 48 hours before extraction, add an inner cover with bee escape under the super to be harvested.
Pull off the super, ensuring that all bees have exited.
Uncap the frames using a very sharp knife designed specifically for this purpose. We use a bus tub like is used in restaurants to catch the cappings.
Spin out the honey two frames at a time, turning each halfway through to extract the opposite side.
After spinning all frames, add the cappings to the strainer and let all filter through to the collection bucket.
Allow the honey settle for 24 hours, then bottle.
We are soon to outgrow the honey spinner, but it is a wonderful piece of equipment to get started with honey extraction.
Please visit our website at www.FiveFelineFarm.com or like us on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/FiveFelineFarm. You will find the latest news on the Farm and an occasional glimpse of the cats.
It's November, and we all know what that means: The holidays will be here any day now! Last year we followed the Thanksgiving turkey recipe below with our own homegrown bird, and we'll do it again this year because it's that good: super moist, flavorful, and sure to please your guests. It takes some preparation, but in the end, it's more than worth the effort!
This recipe will work for a 16- to 25-pound turkey. Make sure the bird is completely thawed the day before you plan to cook it, because brining it requires at least 12 hours. It's even better if you can brine it longer. We're doing ours a full 48 hours.
For The Brine
1 gallon unsweetened apple juice
6 to 8 thin slices of fresh ginger
2 Tbsp peppercorns
2 Tbsp allspice berries
2 Tbsp whole cloves
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Combine the apple juice, ginger, and spices in a large sauce pan. Stir in the salt and sugar. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes then allow to cool completely. We've designated a large water cooler, similar to the one pictured at left, for brining our bird.
Unwrap the thawed turkey, remove the giblets, and place the bird in the cooler, neck end down. Pour your cooled brining liquid over the bird. Add water until the bird is completely submerged then add a bunch of ice on top to keep cool. Put the lid on the cooler and leave it undisturbed for at least 12 and up to 48 hours. (Just make sure it's staying cold.)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
1/4 lb butter (1 stick), cut into pats
2 cups chicken broth
Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the bird from the brine, letting the brine drain out of the cavity. Don't rinse the bird.
Coat a roasting pan with olive oil and place the bird in it, breast-side up.
Using your hands, separate the bird's skin from the breast and legs. Rub the chopped herbs into the meat.
Place the pats of butter under the skin in various locations, including on the legs. Pour the chicken broth over the bird.
Cover the bird with the pan lid or foil and put the pan in the oven.
Roast for two hours, basting every hour. Then remove the foil and allow the bird to brown, basting every 20 minutes.
Continue to roast the bird until the interior temperature reaches 165F. This can take an additional 1 to 2 hours, depending on whether the bird is stuffed. When taking the temperature, make sure the thermometer is through the thickest part of the breast and not touching bone.
You'll end up with an incredibly moist, flavorful, and tender bird. Happy Thanksgiving!
My friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. Instead of arts and crafts, my focus these days has been farming as much of my urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with my husband, I run Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We’re always keeping busy. If I’m not out in the yard, I’m in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!
This post originally appeared on HOMEGROWN.org. Come visit us!
Raw honey will granulate in time, and it is perfectly fine to eat it that way if you wish. Depending on the floral mix, moisture content, and the temperature at which it’s stored, some honeys granulate sooner than others.
Many people prefer granulated honey. You can use it as is in your favorite recipes, spread it on warm toast, or spoon it into a steaming mug of tea or coffee. But if you prefer to drizzle some honey over a warm biscuit, don’t despair! It can be liquified again with a little heat.
Most people just zap a bit of honey in the microwave or heat it in a pan of water on the stove. These methods work well, but you risk overheating and thus burning, darkening and damaging the honey as well as destroying nutrients and enzymes. Bee keepers often use special water-jacketed tanks or heating bands. These are expensive, often unwieldy for small batches, and also risk destroying the quality of the honey if not attended closely.
Ideally, to preserve color and quality, you want to hold the honey at about 105 to 115 degrees for several hours, depending on the size of your jars.
My brother and his wife usually get a case of honey from me every year to give to their friends as Christmas gifts. But by Christmas, the raw honey, pulled in the spring, has begun to crystalize in the glass jars. Ingenious man that he is, my brother substitutes the light bulb in his oven with a regular 100-watt bulb and leaves the jars of honey in the oven over night! (Just remember to replace the bulb again before you use the oven to prevent the bulb from breaking! He also suggests checking your oven first by sticking a thermometer in overnight to see how warm your oven gets.)
If I have only a few jars, I use my chicken egg incubator. I can set the incubator at 110 degrees, leave the lids on, and walk away! I can even reliquify comb honey this way because the wax does not melt until about 140 degrees. In the photo, both jars contain cut comb and honey. The one on the right has been reliquified overnight in my incubator.
Following the success of last month's Soup Swap, my neighbors and I gathered last night for a muffin swap (and a great excuse to get out of the house for some adult conversation.) We packaged our muffins in bags of 6 and came home with lots of different muffins (and recipes) to try.
I knew I wanted to bring a healthy option, so I immediately decided on Orange Cranberry Wheat Germ Muffins. Several years ago, my friend Juliann made a batch for us. My kids loved them, and I have made them often since. But lately, I've really been trying to cut the sugar we consume, so for the muffin swap, I gave the recipe a slight makeover. I used whole wheat flour, mostly home-dehydrated cranberries instead of craisins, less sugar and oil, and no orange juice. The kids still gobbled them up, so I'd say the changes were a success!
Orange Cranberry Wheat Germ Muffins
3 cups freshly ground soft white wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1 cup wheat germ/bran (I was out of wheat germ. Use whatever you have!)
1 cup of dried cranberries (I used 1/3 cup Craisins and 2/3 cup dehydrated cranberries. We like the texture of the craisins, but not their sugar content.)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup safflower oil
1/4 cup applesauce or pearsauce
2 tsp grated orange grind or 1 tsp dried orange powder
2 TBL homemade orange extract + enough water to make 1 cup
Preheat oven to 375. Grease muffin pans if you aren't using liners. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Make a well in the center.
In another bowl, combine remaining ingredients and mix well. Add to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched in the center.
A growing number of homeowners are realizing how useful chickens can be in the backyard: They offer pest control, fertilizer, comedy relief, and their business end doles out concentrated protein like a Pez dispenser. Unfortunately, novice chicken-owners can encounter problems when they expect more than chickens can deliver, either in food, companionship or general co-operation. If you are considering keeping chickens yourself, it is helpful to learn and avoid the most common mistakes, so that you can instead make an entirely different set of mistakes.
For example, you might think your chickens might see you as dogs do, as a god who strides among them tossing manna. You would be mistaken: Chickens don’t think you are the same person who wore that different shirt yesterday. Chickens don’t think that your moving parts are part of a single life-form. Let’s be honest, chickens don’t think the same way we do. What I’m getting at here is: Don’t walk into a chicken run barefoot, or the birds will see your toes and give you what we in the business call “the full Hitchcock.”
To use another example, you might think that when you open the door of their enclosure and the rooster runs past you the other way, he would realize his mistake and go back where the food and sex are. In fact, you would be wrong. Instead, be prepared for the cockerel to run frantically in all directions until exhausted, occasionally banging his head on the fence as he repeatedly tries to go through it like a moth at a window.
When you successfully retrieve your cockerel, you might think you can lift him over the fence and gently let go, since a bird — with wings and feathers and all — will flutter delicately to the ground. If your rooster is like mine, however, be prepared for it to drop like a bowling ball out of your hands and into the mud, and glare at you the rest of the day.
Another thing to keep in mind, if you have both chickens and children, is that your rooster will go up to the chickens and … um …. raise questions. A lot. Not consensually. Emphasize to your pre-teen daughter that any teenaged humans acting that way should get a good talking-to — using the language of ninjitsu, followed by the language of police reports and indictments.
Don’t assume that a chicken is a chicken; there are docile and aggressive breeds, white and brown egg layers, and breeds that look like they stuck their beak in an electrical socket. Many of the more bizarre-looking breeds are purely for show, by people who apparently love forcing chicken sex to genetically engineer even goofier-looking animals. Others were bred for fighting by people who apparently love the mess of chicken slaughter without having to bother with the inconvenience of eating fried chicken afterwards.
After you built them a home and yard and given them food, water and soft bedding, you might think they will snuggle in and obediently lay eggs in your hen box, realizing their good fortune. You probably will not expect them to try to tunnel out like Charles Bronson in “The Great Escape.” In fact, you would be wrong — we found one of ours apparently spent hours burrowing several feet under the coop, only to panic at the realization that she was a bird now deep underground.
Remember that chickens are social animals and need to cuddle together as a family, where “family” is defined as “one of those daytime television guests that throw chairs at each other.” If one of the chickens begins to look a little ragged, as one of ours did, remember that the others will not gather round and cluck sympathetically out of sisterly concern, but look at it like hyenas do a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti.
Finally, it might be best not to treat chickens as pets; they are made of meat, and while they might be moving around at the moment, they secretly long to return to their natural state of being dinner. As such they will constantly prowl their territory searching for new and more creative ways to die, and you will not be able to keep them from it forever.
Photo by Brian Kaller