Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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If you are trying to stay away from chemical fertilizers, stack the functions of the plants and animals on your property and save money then these simple fertilizer teas are just for you. There are many different kinds of fertilizer “teas” and we will be covering three of them in this blog. We will talk about comfrey, rabbit manure and vermicompost tea! All of these teas work very well. IF you want to do a deep dive into fertilizer teas read some of Dr Elaine Ingham’s work.

A couple of general considerations on making fertilizer teas: first, make sure you either have your own source or get them from a trusted source where you know how they were grown/raised. For example, if minimizing chemical exposure is important to you then understanding the source is extremely important. Second, all liquid fertilizer teas are quick acting. If you are looking for a prolonged and steady source of nutrient release then other methods will work better in most cases. One of the great benefits of liquid fertilizer teas is the application can be made at just the right time. If your plants are in dire straits this is also a good time to give a fertilizer tea boost. Third, all three of these fertilizer teas can be used as a foliar feeding or a regular water feeding for the roots. Finally, all of these methods can be sped up with aeration through stirring or using something like an aquarium aerator.

1. Comfrey tea (for plants) is simple to make and great as a fertilizer tea. For a very simple start just fill up a container, like a 5 gallon bucket, about 2/3 full with comfrey leaves and add water. Let sit for around three weeks and you are ready to go. Dilute the concentrate with about a 1:10 ratio of comfrey tea to water and you have a great fertilizer to use on your plants. Comfrey not only provides a good NPK boost, it is also packed with micronutrients.

2. Rabbit manure tea is simple to make and highly beneficial for plants. You can go simple or complex. Start simple. Use a ration of 1 part rabbit manure to 5 parts water, let sit for seven days and it’s ready to use. When ready to use, dilute by using one cup of manure tea to one gallon of water. Rabbit manure tea is higher in nitrogen then the other teas listed here but not nearly as high as chemical fertilizers so if you need a bit more of a nitrogen boost look to use rabbit manure tea.

3. Vermicompost tea (worm castings) is another easy to make fertilizer for plants. Take a couple handfuls of worm castings (poop) and add water. If you stick to the same 1/5 ratio as rabbit manure you will do just fine. Let sit for 1-3 days and it’s ready to use on plants. Again, you can speed up and perhaps, increase the beneficial microorganisms by aerating and/or feeding the solution with a sugary substance like molasses.

All three of these fertilizer teas are great for providing nutrients and micronutrients to your plants, helping to keep you off the chemical treadmill and to save you money. If you are more interested in the science of soil check Dr Ingham’s online course.

Sean and Monica Mitzel homestead with their family on 40 acres and are using permaculture techniques and methods for the property. The homestead is a demonstration and education site where they teach workshops and raise dairy goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, and ducks. The Mitzels have planted food forests, guilds and enjoy wildcrafting and propagating plants. Sean and Monica can often be found podcasting or speaking and teaching at different events. Listen to the podcast and to learn more about the Mitzels, visit The Prepared Homestead. Read all of their MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.       

All photo credits: Linde Mitzel, P3 Photography

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We’ve always hatched our own eggs on our homestead. It has been an exciting adventure for us to watch, especially for my son, these past few years. We’ve also hatched out ducklings and chicks with a broody duck. It was a wonderful experience. Unfortunately, we never really got to see them grow up, however, because they were sold quickly after hatching.

But almost 2 weeks ago, one of our beautiful Delaware mama hens hatched out two of the most adorable chicks you’ve ever seen. She had gone broody quite some time ago, and I sat her on five of our own eggs. Unfortunately, I failed as a homesteader and didn’t realize her nest was to shallow. Therefore, since she was nesting in a nesting box, the eggs were eventually crushed from sitting on the hard bottom without enough straw.

Lesson learned.

I quickly added two new eggs under her after we spruced the nest up. In the meantime, I started up the incubator with chicken eggs that were gifted to us from a fellow homesteader, and some of our own quail eggs, just in case she gave up from being on the nest so long.

She didn’t give up. In fact, she was a pro! Just like clockwork, her babies hatched right on time.

Flock Integration

At first I was terrified that the other chickens would peck at the chicks. But because she nested in the coop the entire time, and because the flock went through the entire experience with her, they accepted the babies in no time. For the first 24 hours or so, she kept them in the coop with little exposure to the rest of the flock. But by day 2, she was quickly trying to integrate them. We had a few pecks here and there, but nothing brutal.

By day 3, the chicks were now roaming with mama hen without fear of rebuttal from the other chickens. And by day 4, they were completely part of our flock. In fact, now, a week later, we have another hen that helps babysit while mama hen is dust bathing or foraging and the babies don’t want to tag along.

Keeping Chicks Warm

My next observation came as no surprise to me. When we had ducks hatch out ducklings, the ducklings rarely stayed under mama duck. In fact, they were drenched in a rain storm once and they didn’t even care. Of course, I can never suggest you drench your ducklings and not give them heat. But it was an incredible learning experience.

The same happened with mama hen. Her brand new babies are never under her for warmth except in the evenings when time to roost. But even then, with these hot summer Virginia nights, they’ve been sleeping beside her rather than beneath her.

At the same time, we have an outdoor brooder for the chicks and quail we incubated at the same time she was setting on her eggs. We haven’t had to keep them under a heat lamp either. As I’ve been watching mama hen, I’ve been mimicking her natural instinct with the chicks I incubated. We do keep a 60 watt bulb in the insulated outdoor brooder for them, but they have not yet needed a heat lamp to survive while outside.

I say this now, but I urge you to use wisdom. When the temps go below 80 degrees, your chicks need a heat lamp until they have become accustomed to the temperatures, whether indoors or outdoors. Please keep in mind that chicks need a heat source to one side of their brooder until they are 6 weeks old or fully feathered. But I think we all know this!

Excellent Foragers

The next thing I observed is how incredible they are at foraging, even at such a young age. When I keep chicks in a brooder, I try to allow them to forage some. But the reality is that I just can’t stay outside with them to make sure they don’t get attack by a lurking predator, therefore they go back into the safe brooder. Mama hen takes care of that with her own babies, and she is teaching them well. At just two days old, these babies were eating bugs and grass. What an amazing testament to nature!

Not only are they great foragers, but they are great at being aware of their surroundings. When mama hen makes her call, they go running. But even more so, they’ve learned to scan the skies themselves.

At The End of the Day…

When it comes down to it, I couldn’t ask for a better teacher than nature itself. Because we believe in all natural living on our homestead, this mama hen experience has been one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced along this journey.

At the end of the day, Mother Nature knows best. She knows how to take care of her young, and maybe, if we stop and listen, we might learn a thing or two from nature as well.

Amy Fewell is a writer, photographer, blogger, and homesteader based in Virginia. Along with her husband and son, she raises heritage breed chickens, quail, rabbits, and more! She believes in all natural holistic living for both her family and her animals. And she is currently working on a cookbook of traditional family Farmstead recipes. Check out more from Amy at The Fewell Homstead and

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Having an area properly prepared for your new chicks or ducklings is important in making sure they grow up healthy and safe. For some, it is easiest to use an old dog crate or a plastic tote and outfit it for the occasion, but if you are going to be getting new poultry regularly or annually, it is often best to build a brooder specifically for raising your young birds.


I still use a brooder box which my father built when we brought home a dozen chick’s on Mothers Day almost 20 years ago. A good brooder box should last you, and it should be transferable to different types of fowl.

How to Size a Brooder Box

When considering the size of your box, think of how many chicks you usually get. Most baby birds need little space at first — in fact, a smaller area will be easier to keep warm for them. While adult chickens require about 4 square feet per bird (how much space chickens need to roam), new chicks will only use a few square inches. As they grow and become more active, they’ll start to use more space.

A brooder is generally intended for the first few weeks of your chick’s lives, after which they can move out into a grow-out pen, and then in with your adult chickens. A 3-foot-by-2-foot space is appropriate for up to about 20 new chicks, and could also raise a half dozen ducklings or three to five goslings.

big brooder

Airflow is important for young birds as it helps to keep dust down, but you don’t want your brooder too open or you’ll have problems maintaining temperature and keeping it safe from predators. A large box that can have an area blocked off when your chicks are very small, and then opened up for more space as they grow, is ideal.

In addition to the floor space for your chicks, you should also consider how tall you want your walls. Ideal brooders are have sides around two feet high. Some birds will grow tall fast (such as geese), others won’t get over two feet even as adults. It is good to have higher sides, though, so you can set up practice roosts inside your brooder.

Be sure to clean your brooder regularly to avoid diseases, and when possible bring in herbs and branches from outside into the brooder, to keep your baby birds amused and teach them how to forage in the way they will as adults.

Building a Brooder Box

We built our brooder from 2-inch by 12-inch boards with bracing pieces in the corners. For the top, we used chicken wire stretched between a frame of 2 inches by 4 inches so that we could easily see in, the box would get healthy airflow. Heat lamps can be placed directly on the chicken wire which put them at an ideal height for keeping the box warm.

Inside the box, we put two small braces half way up the wall that we can stretch small sticks across for practice roosting. Removable roosts are ideal, because taking them out is helpful for cleaning. With a waterer and feeder inside appropriate to the types of poultry you are raising, this should provide an ideal environment for caring for your birds.


When to Move Chicks Out of the Brooder Box

Once your chicks are about 6 weeks old, they will require more space, and you can move them into a grow-out box or into your chicken coop with careful integration. For their first few weeks, a box as described above with shavings or straw for comfy bedding should be ideal. Be sure to put a thermometer in a corner of your brooder, so you can make sure it is the best temperature for the age of your chicks.

If you are only getting a few birds, block off an area of the box while they are still very small. If you are raising a large number of chicks, the same principles can apply to a bigger box, or even to an area of your barn dedicated to brooding.

Raising chicks and other birds is a lot of fun, and having a brooder box ready to go every year takes some of the stress out of preparing for them. Soon you’ll be enjoying fresh eggs from your new friends!

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200 year old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living's site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Calvin Picks a Strawberry

Growing up on 1800 acres of farmland in Rural Kentucky meant that when summer came, I was on a hiatus from people for 3 solid months. While my older brother typically worked alongside my dad during any off time, as a clumsy young female, I was often left to my own devices. Since I had no one to complain to about being bored, I found ways to keep myself busy.

The ability to entertain yourself is a crucial skill for children of any background. The key to self-driven summer fun is setting acceptable boundaries of when and where your children may go, how long they can stay out, a communication plan to get in touch with them if needed, and to provide them easy access to tools and supplies that will enrich their experience.

1. Explore It never gets old. Adventuring was, and still is, one of my favorite lazy day activities. And I never got lost, even once. Why? Because I knew that no one knew where I was, and it was up to me to get myself back out of there. This made me more cautious and more aware of my surroundings, and ultimately lead to a greater sense of confidence in my abilities to manage the world on my own.

Farm Girl Tip: Create a survival backpack for your child to take if you are concerned about them being out on their own. This should include things like a bottle of water or two, a healthy snack, and a long-range walkie-talkie for communication.

2. Make A Wreath. A wreath is a classic homesteading craft that can add beauty to your home or be given as a gift, and is relatively simple for a child to construct.

Wreaths can be created from most vines. While grape is one of the most common materials for wreath making, honeysuckle is one of the easiest vines to work with and is one of the most prolific (at least in my area) so this is a great place to start. Be careful, however, as poison ivy grows enjoys in many of the same areas as honeysuckle, so be aware of what you are selecting!

The great thing about wreaths is that you can create them entirely from supplies available to you in nature, which makes them completely free to create, enjoy, and give as gifts.

How to Make a Wreath

Tools Required: Knife or Snippers for cutting lengths of vines, wire for holding vines in place (if needed), Ribbon or Decorative Elements

1. Start by collecting several long lengths of vines and stripping their leaves. While the leaves look pretty now, they will get crumbly and make a huge mess as the wreath dries.

2. Form one vine into a circle about the size you want your completed wreath to be. Remember as you add more vines it will increase in size as well as close the hole in the middle a bit. Once you have the size that you want, take the ends of the vine and twist them around the vine to help hold it in place.

3. Continue wrapping and weaving vines around your original vine until you have the thickness that you desire. Make sure to start your new vines in different places, and to wrap in different directions to help strengthen your wreath.

4. Decorate your wreath with items you find around you, leave it as is, or decorate with ribbons and other craft items. Make sure to pick items that will dry well, or treat them with lacquer or another spray to maintain their beauty.

Farm Girl Tip: There are tons of natural crafts that you can create beyond wreaths that may be of more interest to your child. They can create their own paints, carve a walking stick, make a picture frame, create mixed media art, totems, dream catchers, and more! The only limit is their creativity and imagination. Your local 4-H is a great resource for finding more craft activities that may be able to be entered in the county/state fair, earning you some extra cash!

3. Farm Animal Photography. Kids love to take pictures, and farm animals make the perfect subject! It is easiest to focus on one animal at a time and work to capture that perfect shot. Allow them to take as many pictures as they would like, and afterward, they can print their pictures out and use them to create their own farm storybook or scrapbook.

Farm Girl Tip: Try to get pictures from different angles. A picture of a cow snout and of a cow hoof or tail are very different pictures, and can make for some unique shots. There are photography categories in most county/state fairs, so this could be another great opportunity to earn some extra spending money.

4. Rubber Eggs. If your kids enjoy science, then this is a very cool project. Did you know that you can melt the shell off an egg using only white vinegar? Simply place the egg in a cup, fill with white vinegar until the egg is covered, then wait.

Within a few days, you will notice that the outer, calcium shell has completely disintegrated in the vinegar, leaving you with an egg dressed only in the inner membrane. Test with eggs from different chickens, or against different types of birds to see which ones take the longest.

Farm Girl Tip: This activity is best enjoyed outside. Once the egg shell has disintegrated, the eggs are fragile and the membrane may split at any time, leaving a mess that you will be glad isn’t in your kitchen.  

5. Farm Projects. While your child may not be able to manage a lot of farm responsibilities, giving them specific, short-term projects can help them feel like they are contributing. Growing up, I was responsible for things like bottle-feeding calves, assisting with sheep shearing, administering inoculations, and other tasks that got me involved without requiring a huge amount of effort or knowledge.

Many kids who grow up in rural areas enjoy farm activities, but their level of involvement should be reflective of their ability to complete the task. While it would be perfectly reasonable to expect a child to use an egg incubator to hatch chicken eggs, or to plant and maintain a small garden, it may be less realistic to expect them to plow a field or assist a cow during labor.

Farm Girl Tip: Choose farm activities that meet your child’s ability and skill level. You want to set them up for success and build a love for the outdoors and farm life. Assigning them a responsibility that is too challenging, or too complex, will only work against your efforts to get them engaged.

6. Pokemon Go! Take advantage of the craze to get your kids oustide! It's taking over the world, and with good reason. It is a fun and exciting way to get kids outside, exploring their natural environment, while still being able to play a video game. Encourage them to explore different landscapes to try to capture different Pokemon. The Pokemon that are hiding near bodies of water are different from those in fields and green areas, so the more exploring they do, the wider variety of Pokemon they will find!

Farm Girl Tip: Make sure that your children understand safety and boundaries. It is not ok to wander onto other people's property to obtain Pokemon, and being alert of their surroundings is crucial. If adventuring in a wooded area, make sure that they stay on a path that they are familiar with, or are able to navigate their way back out on their own. Since it is a mobile game, if they do get into a sticky situation, they can easily call you for assistance.

Feel free to share your summer fun suggestions and stories in the comments, we would love to hear your ideas!

Emily Baker launched the website in 2010 with her husband, Christopher. The site offers a complete incubation and poultry supply business. Emily has personally assisted thousands of hobbyists and breeders in selecting appropriate incubation equipment and supplies, proper use of that equipment, and providing general incubation support. She has also had multiple articles published regarding incubator selection and technique. Read all of Emily's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


July means lots of honey coming in from the beeyard, but it can also mean dealing with a lot of heat and humidity. Here are some tips to help keep you and your bees more comfortable.

Provide Water for Bees

Just like every other living thing, bees need water!  It’s a good ideas to make sure they have a clean source of water nearby for a number of reasons. First, they won’t have to travel as far to find water. Secondly, providing the bees with a known source of water can help keep them out of places you don’t want them – such as a neighbor’s pool.


Any shallow container can hold water, but you need to make sure that the bees have something to land on, so they don’t fall in and drown. I’ve heard of people using marbles, rocks, sticks, and whatever else will work.

We found a very easy way to provide our bees with water – we use a chicken waterer. We fill it up, hang it from a shepherds hook, and fill the water tray with gravel and rocks. The water doesn’t evaporate as fast as with an open container of water, and the bees don’t fall in and drown because of the gravel.

Someone once told me that adding a little bit of bleach to the water helps attract the bees to it, so we usually add about half a cap full whenever we refill it. This method seems to work well. We still get a few bees at our birdbath, but most seem to prefer the water we put out for them.


Protecting Bees from Summer Heat


Bees do a great job of regulating the temperature inside the hive – fanning at the entrance and “bearding” on the front of the hive are just a few ways they reduce the heat and humidity in the hive. However, there are a few things that beekeepers can do to help them deal with the heat.

We use screened bottom boards, and always have an open upper entrance in addition to the regular front entrance. This helps with air flow, allowing excess heat and moisture to exit the hive.

When the weather is going to be extra hot, we use popsicle sticks to slightly lift the outer cover. We place them horizontally on the back of the inner cover, or even diagonally across the corners. Again, this helps with ventilation.

Another thing you can do to help is to make sure the bees have plenty of room.  n addition to swarm prevention, making sure the bees have plenty of space allows the heat to disperse more easily. We always make sure they have a super that is at least half empty to work on, and plenty of brood space as well.

For the Humans

My husband and I are not big fans of hot, humid weather, so we always take steps to try and stay as cool as possible when working the bees.

First, clothing. On a hot, humid day, we don’t reach for denim jeans – they are much too heavy and hot. Instead we wear baggy, light, pants. Hiking pants are a good choice — they are generally made of light, breathable material.

Under our bee jackets and veils, we wear a light shirt or tank top made out of a material that will wick moisture away. If I am just doing something quick in the beeyard, like removing a super, I may even skip the jacket and just wear a light, long sleeve shirt with a separate veil on.

It’s also important to have some kind of sweatband or headband. There is nothing more annoying than sweat running into your eyes, when you can’t wipe it a way because of the veil. A sweatband takes care of that. You could also try wearing one of those new cooling towels around your neck to help stay cool.

We also plan when we will work on certain hives. On a hot humid day, we try to get out in the beeyard as early as possible, while it’s still cool. But, we also try to work on hives when they are in the shade as opposed to full sun. It makes a huge difference.

And finally - think about what really needs to be done in the beeyard. If it is over 90 degrees and humid, we tend to prioritize — what needs to be done now, and what can wait a few days until it cools down?

This is also the time of year when we start doing a lot of honey extraction. If we plan ahead, we can have honey supers pulled from the hives and in the house when the hot weather hits. When it is too hot to work outside, I can always work on extracting honey inside!

For more details on honey extraction, please check out my previous blogs: Honey Harvest, Part 1Honey Harvest, Part 2, and The Hows and Whys of Producing Comb Honey. And, of course, take lots of breaks to cool off, and drink a lot of water. Have fun and stay cool!

Jennifer Ford is a science teacher and co-owner of Bees of the Woods Apiary outside of Altamont, New York.  Over the past seven years, Jennifer and her husband have expanded the apiary from two to 18 beehives, and share what they have learned about beekeeping with others through mentoring programs and presentations. Learn more about Bees of the Woods Apiary and beekeeping in general at or on the Bees of the Woods Facebook page. Read all of Jennifer’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


For beginning homesteaders (or even those more established), raising meat rabbits it the perfect first step to take toward raising your own livestock. As natural herbivores, rabbits eat low on the food chain and pack on the pounds six times faster per pound of food than cows do. In fact, within a year, two does and one buck are capable of producing 200 pounds of meat!

And nothing goes to waste, because rabbit droppings are great for the garden and can be sown directly in. Raising rabbits is a positive step towards a more natural, sustainable lifestyle, and they are cheap and easy to take care of.

cage outdoors

Easy to raise just about anywhere, rabbits are a healthy, low-fat meat source that require minimal special equipment. And at 6 to 8 pounds at butchering weight, they are a great size for a single meal!

When my husband and I moved to our Appalachian homestead last year, we knew we wanted to have livestock. Chickens were the obvious choice, but we knew we wanted something else. We settled on getting our own meat rabbits because we wanted easy to care for livestock that would provide food for two people.

Though we've gotten quite a bit of backlash from people that are offended by the idea that we would be willing to eat these cute critters, we are confident that we've made the right choice for our situation.

Just a few weeks ago, our two females gave birth! We now have eleven baby bunnies and are right on our way to becoming environmentally conscious carnivores.

Best Ways to Raise Meat Rabbits


Get the Right Breed

There are dozens of rabbit breeds, but only a few are suitable for meat production. The most common meat breeds are the New Zealand White, the Californian, and the Flemish Cross. We chose to raise New Zealands primarily because they were readily available in our area, but also because they have a thin skin that makes them extremely easy to butcher.

Set Up a Proper Cage System

For our system, we wanted two does and a buck, meaning that we needed four cages (three for the adults and one for the weaned-babies.) All of our rabbits are outside, although it's perfectly fine to keep rabbits indoors so long as their space is well-ventilated and not too hot. Rabbits overheat quickly, and in the summertime, your bunnies may need plenty of shade and icy treats to stay cool.

Rabbits can live comfortably in a hutch, or wire cage. Just be sure that the bottom bars aren't spaced an uncomfortable distance apart.

Keep your rabbits happy (and your yard trimmed!) by building your rabbit a portable cage like this rabbit lawn mower that will allow them to graze on the grass.


Feed Them a Well Balanced Diet

Don't scrimp on food for your bunnies — you are what your bunny eats! Rabbits are herbivores and will appreciate some fresh produce along with the pellets in their diet. Root crops like radishes and carrots truly are their favorites, so be sure to keep some stocked up for special treats.

Breeding Rabbits

You can start breeding your rabbits when they are 6 months old. Bring the doe into the bucks cage and leave them together for at least an hour. No longer is necessary, lest the female gets provoked enough to try to castrate her mate!

Repeat this process two or three times to ensure your bunny is impregnated. Then, wait about 31 days for the bunnies to pop out! You will know the time is coming close when the doe starts to pull her from her neck to line the nesting box.

Keep a close eye on the new mom after birth because stressed rabbits are known to eat their young. The babies need to stay with mom for the first few weeks but can move to their own cage after that. Make sure to let your doe rest for at least a month after giving weaning her babies before trying to mate her again. You don't want to wear her out!

Safely and Humanely Prepare Your Rabbits

You can butcher your rabbits after they are close to 3e months old. Don't wait any longer unless you want to risk your babies producing some babies of their own!

Don't feed your bunnies for 24 hours before you butcher them to keep the process less messy. Be sure to prepare a work station with a butchering knife, refuse bucket, ice water and some Ziploc bags.

There is a variety of opinions on the best ways to kill your rabbits, but acceptable humane methods are to snap the neck, slit the throat or quickly bludgeon the head. Try to watch a few Youtube videos first so you have an idea of what to do the first time around.

After your rabbit is dead, you can suspend it from its hind legs and slit the skin on the back legs, cutting around the tail, until you can peel it off in one piece.

Next, gut the carcass by opening the body cavity in a single slit, being careful not to cut any organs in the process. Remove the entrails into your bucket and carefully wash the body with ice water. Now you can store it in the Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer until you are ready to eat it.

Whether you are a homesteader already or just trying to be a little more connected to the foods you eat, raising your own meat rabbits is a great step to take. My husband and I have truly enjoyed the process so far and think that you will, too!


Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer and Appalachian homesteader with her husband in West Virginia at the Big Laurel Learning Center. There, they are caretakers of a historic Appalachian homestead that resides on a 500-acre land trust. There they help to run a mountain-ridge retreat and ecology center. You can find her at her personal blog and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


A man and his bees

What is Bee Swarming?

Beekeepers today try to control their hives and not let them swarm. Some may ask, "What is swarming?"

Very simply: Swarming occurs when a new colony of bees have been formed. Most often the old queen will leave with her worker bees and search out a new "home." There is never room enough in any house for two queen bees! So, one has to go.

Observation Hive

If there has been enough food stores over winter and then early on in spring, a new brood will hatch and the old hive becomes too small for all the bees.

When the bees are almost ready to leave the old hive, they will send out "scouts" to look for a new home before they all leave out. These scouts will lead the new swarm to their new home.

This can be a sign to watch for if you want to "catch" your swarm. Another sign they are wanting to leave may be bees hanging out on the front of the hive (this also happens when the weather is very hot).

When Do Bees Swarm?

You can look for swarms in early spring. We have them usually beginning in early May (we have had them to swarm as early as the last of April). We are located in western North Carolina. You can look for them to swarm on hot and muggy days. Most of ours start swarming anywhere from 11:00am to 3:00pm.

The bees will fill up on honey for their travels and can survive for up to 3 days on these stores. This means the swarm if it is to survive needs to find a place on their own or needs to be "caught" by the beekeeper. The bees are usually calm and pretty harmless when they are filled up on honey stores

How to Catch a Bee Swarm

To "catch" a swarm may not be easy in the beginning to someone who has not tried it before or seen someone else catch one.

When you realize the bees are coming out to swarm and not just "working" hard, you can try to "settle" them. Now, I know there will be beekeepers that will read this and say, "No, that is just an old wives' tale."

Well, I say, this is something we have always done and it works for us! When the air becomes thick with bees, you can get a metal pan and spoon and start banging on it — this helps to "settle" the swarm into one place instead of them leaving. If they leave your sight, it will be harder to follow them and try to collect them when they do settle somewhere else.

You can also have another empty hive set up somewhere near the old hive and sometimes they will put themselves in the hive. You can rub peach or apple leaves inside the empty hive to entice the scouts.

When the bees have all settled into a ball now, is a time to collect them into a hive box. Hopefully the swarm will have settled low enough to get the box under it where you can brush them into the box. Sometimes, if they settle on a limb, you will have to cut that off and then shake that over the hive box (make sure the top is removed and you can take a few frames out as well when you are brushing or shaking the bees). You can replace the lid when the bees start going in.

You can tell if the queen has gone in, the other bees will start "bowing" to her as they're going in. If you did not get the queen to go in, the other bees will not stay long. We have had them settle on vines on the ground, on fence posts, in berry bushes and brambles!

Bee Swarm in Wild Azalea

My husband, Alan, and I come from beekeeping families. So, we tend to stick to the "old-fashioned" ways. We don't medicate or use chemicals on our farm. We use herbs that the bees can get to and "work" and medicate themselves.

We also don't use artificial foundation in the frames. We let the bees make their own comb. We don't use an extractor — we use a "straining" method and the honey is not heated. We leave a full super of honey on each hive for winter and we don't feed sugar water.

honey taken out of hive

Unheated honey

Swarming is a natural process and we try to make our "beekeeping" as natural as possible!

Susan Tipton-Fox continues the farming and preserving practices that had been passed down to her by her family. She presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 

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