Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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I recently came across a copy of Successful Hatchery Operation – compiled by the Service Department of The Buckeye Incubator Company and the Newtown Giant Incubator Company, Springfield Ohio, U.S.A.

Published in 1926, it is self-described as -“A Text Book on Methods of Hatching and Selling Baby Chicks For Profit!” (Their exclamation point, not mine.) Intrigued, I poured myself a cup of coffee and settled down to see what I could learn.

The first thing I noticed was that writers seemed to be a bit more polite in the early 1900’s. In the introduction, the text declared that The Buckeye Company “desires in no way to promote propaganda of any kind, but simply to narrate plain statements of fact concerning a giant industry.” I think that a few national news agencies would do well to heed by this timely advice.

Along with that statement of neutrality, the introduction ended with this incredibly civilized signoff –

“Should the reader desire information other than given in this book, a letter addressed to The Buckeye Incubator Company, Springfield Ohio, will receive prompt and detailed acknowledgement.

Who wouldn’t want to read a book that was so careful of its readers’ feelings and needs? I like that, I felt like I should be drinking tea with the milk added first instead of my mug of black coffee.

The Baby Chick Business

Chapter 1 begins with The Baby Chick Business:

From this early beginning the commercial hatching of baby chicks developed slowly until the about 1918 or 1919, when poultry conditions demanded and newly developed equipment made possible its sensational growth. From hatcheries of only a few hundred egg capacity, the business has grown until today hatcheries of over one hundred thousand egg capacity are fairly common, and there are several hatcheries in the United States whose capacities range from five hundred thousand to one million egg capacity each. Altogether there are at the present time about seven thousand commercial hatcheries in the United States. Last year these hatcheries produced somewhere between four hundred million and five hundred million chicks.”

Egg Production

If those were the numbers in 1926, I wondered what they could possibly be today where we have more sophisticated machinery and better conditions. I looked up egg production and found this on wikipedia: “Between 2007 and 2010 a total of about 90 billion eggs were produced by per year.”

That number is simply staggering. 90 billion eggs. If you figure a hen lays an egg roughly every other day, we are talking about a lot of hens laying a lot of eggs. And a lot of anything means big business. Thinking about those numbers, I wrote to Murray McMurray Hatchery, one of the biggest rare breeds hatcheries in the U.S. "Can you give me an idea of your egg capacity? I'm reading a 1926 hatchery guide and it talks about some hatcheries in the US with 500K to 1 million egg capacity each. If that's what was happening in 1926, I'm sure the numbers are much greater today." And then feeling like I should end on a polite note, I added: "Many thanks for your help. Your reply will receive a prompt and detailed acknowledgement." Even though I received an automated reply telling me that someone would get back to me in 2-3 business days (and of course, I sent this out at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday) within half an hour there was a reply in my inbox.

"Hatchery started in 1917 and has grown tremendously, especially in the last 15 years.
Capacity increased this last couple of years by nearly 40%. somewhere between 130 and 150 thousand eggs a week but this time of year 35,000 weekly.

Murray McMurray Hatchery"

Either that Murray McMurry Hatchery has excellent customer service (which from previous encounters, I can vouch that they do) or I ended up winning them over with my courteous signoff after all. I guess using honey to catch those flies is as old as, well, at least 1926. So If we go with the low average of 130 thousand a week (to adjust for the slow season) that comes to approximately 6,760,000 (that’s a 6 in the million position) from just *one* hatchery. No wonder people went into the hatchery business. Apparently chicks and eggs are gold.

Well, well, I had thought I was going to have some chuckles from this old chicken hatchery guide, but it looks like that was not to be the case, instead this old dog was definitely learning a new trick or two. I went to brew another pot of coffee, I think this book and I will be spending a lot of time together.

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons. Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences and lessons learned living with chickens (yes, chickens).Visit her blog at


We rarely encounter health issues on our humble homestead, except mundane ailments involving chiggers, poison ivy or ticks. Still, I enjoy adding to my library of old-time cures and concoctions ― just in case.Doctor Jarvis

This summer, I was ecstatic to find a charming old book by a country doctor who believed it was imperative he study folk remedies to gain the medical confidence of his patients living close to the soil on back-road farms. Deforrest Clinton Jarvis, M.D., (1881-1966) wrote Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor’s Guide to Good Health at age 77 after spending decades gathering home cures that he said were as, or more, effective than those organized medicine taught him to use. "I believe the doctor of the future will be a teacher as well as a physician," Jarvis wrote. "His real job will be to teach people how to be healthy."

I especially love that the copy I found in a used book store has a penciled list of specific ailments paper-clipped to the first page, which leads me to envision a three- or four-generation household. The list includes: Honey for bedwetting, Page 105; Treating overweight, Page 68-69; Apple cider vinegar for arthritis, Page 91; and Castor oil for liver spots, Page 147. Inside, a homemade bookmark made of a torn slip from a medical pad advertising “Polycillin-N” is handwritten with “honeycomb treatment for sinus cold.” Did someone perhaps discard a physician’s prescription and instead found a natural remedy in this old book?

Medicinal Benefits of Honey and Apple Cider Vinegar

Jarvis is best known for advocating doses of honey and apple cider vinegar three times daily to prevent and/or cure many common illnesses including arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, high blood pressure and colds. The delightful elixir (one teaspoon each of honey and vinegar in a glass of water) also restores energy. Already in 1958, Jarvis noted that our modern diet of fats, starches and nutrition-depleted processed foods made people sick, weak, overweight and listless. I wonder what he would think today of our synthetic and genetically modified foods laden with chemicals. When he first began learning folk cures, Jarvis said many old-time treatments did not make medical sense to him, such as chewing the fresh gum of a spruce tree to cure a sore throat in a day. Jarvis’ further studies led to “considerable readjustment of orthodox approaches.”

The fifth-generation Vermonter not only sought the input of country folks for indigenous medicine, but studied insects, birds and animals to learn how they kept healthy. He watched wild and pastured animals to see what they ate and how they cured themselves when ill. Jarvis noted that humans are terrified to miss a meal, but animals know to retreat to a dark, secluded spot without food until they are well again. "If you care to go to school, go to the honey bees, fowl, cats, dogs, goats, mink, calves, dairy cows, bulls and horses and allow them to teach you their ways,” Jarvis wrote.

Jarvis believed that everything people and animals need to survive could be found in nature. We hadn't thought of it that way when we gave up buying commercially produced soaps and whatnot years ago. We simply wanted to avoid as many chemicals as possible. Now we use only all-natural stuff, such as our local Back Forty Soap Company’s goat milk soap. I am sure Doctor Jarvis would approve.

Folk Wisdom on Food and Health

Jarvis discovered that caged mink fed too much protein will develop bladder problems and kidney stones, in many cases dying. But left to their own devices, wild mink supplement their carnivorous diet with berries and leaves. These same ailments plaque humans eating a protein-rich diet. So, eat your greens. Farm children fascinated Jarvis, who discerned that children, like animals, have self-protective instincts about food. Studying Vermont children younger than 10, Jarvis discovered that these young children chewed cornstalks and ate potatoes, carrots, peas, string beans and rhubarb – all raw and fresh from the garden. The youngsters also gobbled “berries, green apples, ripe apples, the grapes that grow wild throughout the state, sorrel, timothy grass heads, and the part of the timothy grass that grows underground. They ate salt from the cattle box, drank water from the cattle trough, chewed hay, ate calf food, and by the handful, a dairy-ration supplement containing seaweed; they even filled their pockets with this, to eat during school.”

Folk MedicineJarvis speculates adults have lost much of their natural intuition toward food and health. Probably more so today, we are influenced by such an avalanche of advertisements and advisements that we don’t even know what’s good for us anymore. “If we were wise enough to carry into adult life the instincts of childhood, we would make a point of eating fruit, berries, edible leaves, and edible roots that would not be cooked,” Jarvis wrote, adding that those who retained their natural impulses are fond of salads and, consequently, healthier.

“Your body, designed for the living of primitive times, expects to receive a daily intake of leaves,” Jarvis wrote. “In these more civilized times the body still needs these leaves as much as ever, in order to better stand the stress and strain of modern living.”

Following Vermonters who live close to the soil, he found many eat beechnut, maple, willow, apple, chokecherry, poplar and birch tree leaves. Elm tree leaves are said to be the best for quickly relieving hunger. Pages 48-55 list numerous wild edibles and their benefits.

Throughout the book, Jarvis gives examples of how honey and vinegar or a combination of both restored health to humans and animals. Not just any honey and vinegar will do, however. The honey must be raw (not pasteurized) and unfiltered, the darker and cloudier the better. Vinegar, too, should not be filtered or distilled. Processing destroys nutrients and beneficial bacteria.

Drinking Switchel for Good Health

 honey and vinegar

My husband and I have been enjoying swigs of raw apple cider vinegar before each meal for more than five years. We fill our gallon jug with it at the local feed mill; we also buy local raw honey by the five-gallon pail. And, like I said, it has been years since either of us has had a cold or flu. We’d never mixed honey and vinegar before, so I was eager to try it when I began reading Jarvis’ book. As I was visiting St. Paul, Minn., at the time, I walked 2 miles to the nearest health food store for some raw honey and vinegar and hurried back to my daughter’s apartment with the goods. I was immediately hooked on the delicious sweet and sour concoction, also known as switchel or honegar.

A quick search on Mother Earth News’ site revealed others who have followed Jarvis’ advice. In 1973, reader Sue Gross wrote to Mother Earth News in Feedback on How to Raise and Keep Goats to say how she fed vinegar to her goats, successfully curing mastitis and worms. Also, author Laurie Masterson wrote of her mother serving honey and vinegar water with crushed ginger root to the field hands in this 2014 article, Switchel Recipe.

To learn more, please see our blog, Folk Medicine Book Pushes Honey and Vinegar.

Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Products, a company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.



Wel, it’s official: We have a blended family. But not in the traditional sense … the members of this family cluck and lay eggs.

We purchase our Red Sex Link chickens from our local feed mill at 20 weeks of age so that they begin laying eggs shortly after they arrive. We’re finding that they lay quite reliably for almost 2 years, and then their production drops off. Here at Sunflower Farm they go into early retirement and live the life of leisure. (From what I understand at other farms they might end up in the soup pot once they have stopped laying.) I guess they are bred this way but they go downhill pretty quickly after their production ends. We’ve had 5 elderly chickens pass away and in every case they were fine one day, stopped eating and got very quiet and were dead the next day, usually curled up somewhere in the coop.

Raising Backyard Chickens

This spring, most of our ladies were getting on in age, so we ordered another 12. With the CSA we’re finding more people interested in purchasing our eggs so we felt it was a good time to expand the flock. We also watched a few documentaries recently, including this CTV W5 episode on the conditions of commercial egg farms and it seems pretty brutal to me. Our ladies live a great life, have room to roam in their pen, get out and free range after they’re done laying at 11 am, put themselves to bed when the sun goes down and eat like queens. Sometimes I wish I were one of our chickens!

I also decided that there are economies of scale here. I’m up at 6 am (during the summer months) to let them out of their coop and we coddle them all day, regardless of whether there are 4 of them or 24 of them. So we decided to double our flock and added 12 new ladies this spring. Then one of our neighbours got 4 chickens and discovered she was really allergic to them, so we offered to take them and added another 4. We’re paying Heidi in eggs for them. So now we’re at 27 chickens … and it’s pretty awesome!


Michelle insists on keeping old and new chickens separate for a few weeks to make sure that they are all healthy and won’t be spreading any illnesses. So we put the new ladies into the new coop I fashioned from a shed I got from our neighbor Alyce. We kept the two groups apart for about a month or so, and gradually introduced them by letting them free range together. Then I fenced in a walkway between the two pens and the blending started. When one of the new ladies ran into one of the old ladies on their daily walkabouts there was some tension for a while. I’ve blogged about how many terms in our language come from chicken behaviour … “flew the coop,” “hen-pecked” or in this case the ladies were just establishing the “pecking order.” After a while this was established and they started getting along just fine. At dusk the old ladies retired to their coop early, but the new teenaged chickens stayed out as a late as they could. This summer they drove me nuts, because I was ready for bed way earlier than they were!

For the last few weeks as I’ve opened up the old ladies’ coop, which I do first, I noticed that several of the new ladies came out of it. It was like they were having a sleepover. Some of the older ladies were already using the nesting boxes in the new coop so we decided it was time to force them all to sleep in the one larger coop. I bribed them all into the new pen before dusk and then closed off the walkway. And low and behold all 27 ladies were snuggled up harmoniously on the two roosts in the new coop. It was pretty cute.

Oh yes, and I have a new theme song. In the morning we serve the ladies bowls of large flake oats with sliced ripe bananas and warm water. Michelle likes to come up with new treats for them from the chicken blogs she reads. So once I’ve let all the ladies out I head over to their three bowls and fill them up with their breakfast. They love this but it is very hard to walk with 27 chickens milling around my feet, anxious for their bananas and oatmeal. So I have now absconded with (I was going to say that word that ends with jacked and starts with hi, but I’d have the authorities down on me) Billy Joel’s song “Piano Man,” which is an awesome song, but I’ve changed the lyrics to “Sing us a song you’re the banana man, sing us song tonight, cause we’re all in the mood for … some bananas… and you’ve got us feeling just right..”

Then I put the bananas in the bowl and stand back because I could lose a finger… or a hand pretty fast with the feeding frenzy that ensues. Our chickens are spoiled. They spoil us with their awesome eggs. Life is good on Sunflower Farm.




My little hill farm in Royalton, Vermont—host to the Bob-White Systems micro dairy—is housed on 40 acres of badly-abused land. When my wife Wendy and I bought the farm in 2001, most of the old pasture had grown in or been stripped for gravel. Up until the early '90s, the land served as a junkyard and the last stop for totaled cars. Needless to say, the land was in bad shape and needed rehabilitation.

Since Bob-White Systems is a research facility, we do not sell the milk that is produced on site. We drink what we can and give the rest away as barter (i.e., milk to neighbors raising pigs in exchange for pork). Still, there is plenty left over. A few years ago I got wind of research being done exploring the benefits of using raw milk as fertilizer. Early reports were favorable, and I finally got around to trying it myself last summer. Here is what happened—and why I am a convert to this natural method of fertilizing my pastures.

How to Use Raw Milk as a Soil Ammendment

I bought a 40-gallon three point hitch sprayer (like this one from Demco) that fits onto my tractor and started spreading the raw milk on my pastures. I try to spread in the evening in order to slow the evaporation process but, in reality, I spread the milk whenever I had time. Since I have a 30- gallon bulk tank, I spread 30 gallons of milk at a time. This takes about twenty minutes of actual spray time. At first, I had concerns that the smell of the milk would bother our neighbors. Luckily, it didn’t; there was no smell. And, the cows had no objection to grazing a pasture recently sprayed with milk. For reference: They object to grazing on pastures where manure has been recently spread.

At first, I didn't notice any immediate improvement in the quality of the pastures, but last summer was the first summer that I did not have to graze my cows on a neighbors’ land. My pastures held up through the season and provided enough grass for my cows. This year, there is no question that the pastures are more lush. In fact, my cows can't keep up. The turf is much thicker and contains a much higher percentage of white clover with fewer weeds and wild strawberries. The grass is healthier and provides more nutritional value and dry matter for my cows, which equals more and better feed thanks to the raw milk.

Price of Raw Milk


I understand that I am in the unique position of having access to surplus milk. Even so, the milk that I spread is much less expensive than commercial fertilizer ($23.20 per hundred weight of raw milk versus $30 per hundred weight for fertilizer at my local farm supply store).

If you have (or have access to) excess milk, it might make sense for you to spread it on your land, even if it is only the milky rinse water (from cleaning your milking equipment). The only caveat is that you have to spread the milk right away or keep it cold and agitated so it doesn't separate. You cannot use a conventional sprayer if your milk has separated. Another option is to mix the raw milk with your manure.

Whatever you decide to do, surplus milk and milky rinse water should be viewed as a resource rather than a waste product on the dairy arm. As you can see, putting it to work, rather than throwing it down the drain, works for me, my cows and my pasture, and it can for you, too.


 Off Grid Cabin

I am taking the back roads to a sustainable lifestyle out here in rural Texas. What started with my love of the great outdoors has turned into an all-natural, less complicated way of living. Before long all my work and an assist from Mother Nature will provide for all my needs here at The Sunflower, my off-grid farm and outdoors retreat. 

In the current issue of Mother Earth News, Managing Editor Jennifer Kongs presents interviews of a whole host of off-grid, self-sustaining folks from Florida to Colorado. I'm not as far along in my quest as these awesome homesteaders but I applaud their efforts and have redoubled my own.  For five years I've been living off the grid, the last in a straw bale cabin, growing a huge garden, raising free range chickens and sharing my knowledge and experience with others. Now if I can just help convince all of you that you can and should do it too! Going off-grid and becoming self- sufficient won't happen overnight; I'm still working toward that 100 percent goal. There's so much to do... secure your food and water sources,  build housing and barns, produce electricity, but that's the fun of it---you never get bored!

Commence your journey into the homemade light like I did, by simply adding a solar panel, batteries, a charge controller and some lighting to an outbuilding or on your patio at your current residence. Kits are available but try to piece all the components together yourself; assembly instructions are found throughout Mother Earth News back issues, Real Goods and other catalogs, and all over the Google. It's a simple and inexpensive way to get experience with 12-volt/DC electricity. A couple of hundred bucks and you're in business! If you've ever worked on cars, boats or RV's it'll be really simple. Add to your system with a 12-volt fan, stereo, television, coffee pot, etc. All of these creature comforts can be found at your local truck stop, RV lot and on the Google. You may even locate a nearby manufacturer of solar panels or batteries...BONUS! Shopping local hurts no one. If it's windy in your locale, add this homemade wind generator to your battery pack to help keep your system charged up when it isn't sunny.

My Cabin Power: Solar Panels, a Wind Generator and Batteries

Living in a travel trailer for several years, I learned about 12-volt DC power by necessity, however charging up the batteries every other day with my truck and a pair of jumper cables seemed counterproductive so I invested in my first solar panel almost immediately. Holy Mama Cow, it worked! Electricity straight from the sun! It wasn't long before I added a larger panel and better batteries along with more lights, a DVD player, a coffee maker and other "luxuries" for living in the middle of nowhere, unplugged from the grid. All of a sudden I had my own power source and it wasn't all that complicated. Who knew?!

My straw bale cabin is powered with solar panels, a homemade wind generator, and 6-volt "golf cart" batteries. It didn't take me long to go from lights inside the cabin to fans and heat in the chicken coop. A Big Rig space heater/fan does the trick for my 4'X8' coop and I just plug it in to my system as needed. I can't let my fancy chickens freeze their tail feathers off. Check out all the trucker electrical gadgets on your next fuel stop.

How I Moved from Travel Trailer to Straw Bale Cabin

Cabin Interior

Light Portals in Bale Walls

Five years in a 24-foot travel trailer may seem like an adventure to some folks — you crazy kids mostly, but I was never so ready to pack up and move out since I left the broom closet they called a dorm room at SWT. I read up on alternative and sustainable building techniques, then attended straw bale workshops in Texas and California.  Back on my little farm I started building a location for the cabin. North Texas is a big wheat producing area so there was plenty of straw to be had in the early summer following harvest. A straw bale house would be the least expensive and most energy efficient for me so I made a deal with a local farmer to use his square hay baler along with my tractor on his 30 acres wheat field, which after the harvest and my baling, produced 550 bales.

(NOTE: Ask the custom combine crew to remove the cutters and spreader from the back of the combine as they harvest the grain. This makes for longer straw cuttings laid out in concise rows behind the combine, and for tighter bales.) Chances are good that there are grain farmers near you with whom you might strike a deal. Remember, you want bales made from the straw without the grains, even if you buy them already in the barn.

Shaping Straw Bales

I knew how to weld thanks to Texas State Technical College and had access to scores of used oil field pipe, so I built my cabin frame (inner and outer walls) entirely of steel, topped it with a steel roof from Metal Mart and it all sits on a solid concrete slab. With the bales stacked, custom cut and pinned together within the framework then encased in an earth plaster coating, I  now have a great little 24' by 15' cabin.

It takes very little energy to heat and cool a small bale and mud cabin, a huge plus here in Texas. I use candles and a wood stove in the dead of winter, and suction fans and a homemade air conditioner in the hot summers. We've been in a serious drought for six years so securing a water source was critical. I struck a deal to build another straw bale cabin  in exchange for drilling a water well. We hit fresh water just as the lake dried up. Hiring a professional is sometimes the only way to go. If you drill for water get a pro. If you're in north Texas I can recommend a driller.  His expertise, now clearly evident in my completed well, pumps 1200 gallons of drinkable water in a day's time. It's self-contained, fully automatic, solar powered and hasn't missed a lick since it was completed. And no monthly bill.

Food Source: Garden, Chickens, Bartering, Hunting and Trapping

  Chicken Soccer

Chickens, chickens, chickens. Get some. Chickens will soon be your best farm or backyard friends as they go about eating bugs and other pests, even fertilizing your dirt, all the while supplying you with fresh eggs and wholesome natural meat. And if an occasional game of futbol pollo breaks out, get excited about it. 

Plant a vegetable garden half the size of a normal backyard and you'll have all you can eat - fresh and canned. 

My garden is 40' X 40' plus I have a small wheat field. I water the fruits and vegetables constantly, spray all of it with a homemade organic cocktail of bug and disease killing juices, extracts and witches brew, and add a lot of chicken poop to my compost for use in the garden beds.  There are so many tomatoes this year I have already canned 50 jars plus fed everybody in three counties, and I also have some other garden goodies safely stored. Plant vegetables suitable for your climate and soil. I suggest using heirloom varieties for better nutrition and taste.

 Garden Bounty

 Here are a few hints from an old blog post I hope will help you.Heirloom Organic Tomatoes

While I realize hunting is offensive to some readers, it's something I've been doing since an early age. My grandfather started me fishing and hunting when I was a kid and he always told me never to kill an animal for sport, only for the table. I've stuck to that principle and in today's world of antibiotics, water and GMO infused beef, pork, chicken and just about all meats, I'm happy to eat a grilled venison backstrap or wild hog tenderloin instead. This issue's "Green Gazette" features an article on all the additives in supermarket meat. It's just not healthy. Deer and wild hogs are true free-range, all-natural meat sources and are plentiful out here in the country. Wild hogs are so numerous in Texas that hunting and trapping them My Grandadprovides a way to make a living for hundreds of families. I supplement my income by selling live hogs to a local Bel-Tex buyer, and I stock my freezer with fresh, natural pork in the process. When you come for a weekend workshop, you can sample some of my homemade sausage if you'd like, then decide.

I'm not in the cow-milking business just yet but I do know a local milkman who will trade milk and butter for eggs and veggies. Even chocolate! I'll bet you have something you could trade a local farmer or a builder... computer skills, labor, artwork, homemade wine (or really good California reds from 2007), everyone has something! Seek out your neighbors or a farmer in the area. Most of them are friendly and who knows, you might learn how to milk a goat and make chèvre.

My Reasons for Going Off-Grid

My love of Mother Nature drew me back to the country from the rat race. Raising livestock, trading with friends, and working outdoors is fun for me. Corporate quarterly sales spreadsheets and those who create them are not. I'm a minute or two passed my 50th birthday so my health is also a concern.  I do not think GMO, herbicide and pesticide infested foods are nutritious. There's some research to back up my claim... on the Google. Grasshoppers and green bugs won't touch the genetically modified vegetables but it's perfectly safe for us to eat? Yeah, I'll be growing and eating my own as much as possible in hopes I can stay as healthy as I have been. Couple of dings is all, and I want to keep it that way.

Making Sausage

So here we are, outside our new energy-efficient digs, eating an organic cantaloupe we grew on bamboo trellises, talking about how far we've come in a few years. Envision the lifestyle. Take that first step with adding some solar lighting to your backyard. If you do it yourself, it will happen. The guidelines are there thanks to Mother Earth News and many others so go for it! If you're waiting on me you've got your hat on backwards.

Good luck to you and please contact me if I can be of any help. If you're near DFW or a seasoned traveler, I offer weekend tours and training. Come see!


My husband and I have been extracting honey and collecting beeswax from our hives for quite a few years now. This year, we decided to try something new – producing comb honey. We were lucky enough to be in contact with a beekeeper who has produced large amounts of comb honey, and was able to guide us through the process. Here is what we have learned.

Honey Comb One

First, a little background. Comb honey is an amazing product of the hive. It is the most unprocessed form of honey – not extracted, filtered, or heated, and still in the comb. It is great to eat as is, to spread on toast, or to serve on crackers with a mild blue cheese- yum! If you sell your honey, it can be a great product to add to your current offerings.

The first step in producing comb honey is to identify your strongest hives coming out of winter. The bees will have to make both new beeswax comb and fill it with honey before capping. Using only very strong hives ensures that you will have full supers of honeycomb before the end of the season.

You will also need to decide what type of comb honey you will produce. There are several ways to make comb honey, but we decided to make two types this year – cut comb and Ross Round. I will explain how we produced these two types below.

Producing Cut Comb Honeycomb

 Honey Comb Two

Honey Comb ThreeTo produce cut comb honey, you will need a shallow super, with ten empty shallow frames. You will also need to purchase cut comb honey boxes and covers for the final product. Put the super on one of your strongest hives, above a queen excluder. While this shallow super is on the hive, it is important to not use smoke on the hive, except for just a small bit at the front entrance. If smoke gets into the honeycomb super, your honey comb may end up with a smoky smell and taste to it. Check the super periodically, and when the frames are completely filled with capped honey, remove the super. Our method of removing the super is to put an escape board underneath the super two days ahead of time. After the two days are up, we go to the bee yard with a spare super. We pull the frames out one at a time, brush off any remaining bees, and put the frames into the empty super with a cover to keep out any curious bees. When the frames have all been removed, we take off the now empty super and the escape board, replacing it with a new empty super for the bees to begin filling up. Again, we do not use smoke on the comb honey super!

When you have your cut comb frames inside your honey house (or in our case, our kitchen), it is time to start processing them. We lay the frame of honeycomb on a cutting board, and use a comb cutter to score the beeswax cappings to the correct size to fit in the cut comb boxes, as shown in the picture here.

We then use a sharp knife to cut the comb following the scored lines from the cutter, and place it on a wire rack over a cookie sheet.

Finally, we let the squares drain overnight. The honey from the cells on the sides that were cut Honey Comb Fouropen will run out into the cookie sheet. If you skip this step, your honeycomb will be “swimming” in honey, and the boxes may leak. The next day you can gently place the squares of honeycomb in the boxes, and put on the lid.

Gently stack the boxes in a plastic bag , I usually double bag mine, and put them in a freezer for two to three days. This will ensure that any eggs left by pests in the hive (small hive beetles, wax moths, etc.) are destroyed. After two to three days, remove the boxes from the freezer, and allow them to defrost in the plastic bags. This will help minimize condensation on the outside of the boxes. When they are thawed you are now ready to put on your label, and sell them, give them as gifts, or save to eat yourself!

Producing Ross Round Honeycomb

To produce these “rounds” of honeycomb you will need to purchase the Ross Round Comb Super Kit which can be found at most beekeeping supply companies. The kit (for a 10 frame hive) contains a 4 ½ “super, 16 half frames, and 64 rings. Each half frame holds 4 rings and then are snapped together around a piece of foundation. When fully assembled, each frame will yield 4 comb sections. The foundation, covers, and labels are sold separately. At the end of the season you can clean and then reuse the super and frames for next year but will have to purchase additional foundation and rings.

Similar to cut comb, place the 4 ½ “super of Ross Rounds on a very strong hive. Again, use a queen excluder underneath the super. Check the super periodically, and when the circles (or rounds) are completely filled with capped honey, you can remove the super. Again, we use an escape board to clear the bees from the super, and then remove the frames one at a time. Brush off any bees, and place them in an empty super to bring indoors.

Up to this point, producing Ross Round honeycomb is very similar to producing cut comb. Processing the Ross Rounds is very different. The plastic rings that are filled with honeycomb can now be removed from the frame and placed inside two Ross Round covers. No cutting or draining is required though you may have to trim excess foundation off of the outside of the rings prior to placing them in the covers. The Ross Rounds should then be placed in plastic bags and frozen. After 2-3 days they can be removed from the freezer, and allowed to defrost in the bags. At that point you can add the Ross Round labels and the honeycomb is ready to sell, give as gifts, or use for yourself!

We have found that both types of honeycomb sell well, and commands a higher price than an equivalent amount of honey. Also, our customers also seem to appreciate being able to purchase honeycomb from us.  Whatever method you decide to use, we hope you consider giving honeycomb a try next season!

 Honey Comb Five

Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband Keith Freeman. You can visit them at


The summer heat is holding on, but activities of autumn are now filling my time and my to-do list.  While a fresh round of turnip greens are growing strong, and fall beets and lettuces are vibrant in their hues of greens and reds, the garden overall is trading it’s verdant lushness for peaked yellows.  Squash leaves are beginning to fade, beans and peas are yellowing out, and the oldest broccoli leaves are transforming from green to brown.  Potato foliage is withering, and I’ve pulled my cabbage just enough to break a few roots and keep the largest Red Rocks, Jerseys, and Savoys from splitting.

a fraction of our 200+ onions set to cure on any available surface

The garlic which was harvested and hung to dry early in August made way for a cover crop of oats.  It’s now growing like an eager, albeit short-lived, lawn. The neighboring bed will soon look similar, as it held our approximately 200 onions.

Last week I brought in our dry beans - Vermont Cranberry, King of the Early, and Tiger Eye varieties. Though mostly dry on the vine, they’re now laid out on newspaper to finish curing, after which I’ll shell them and store them for winter use. Come the heart of winter, with the woodstove going regularly, beans cook nicely in a stove top pot left to simmer for a day. It’s harder to do so in the summer, when we try to keep our wood cookstove meals quick so as not to overheat our cabin.

I began digging potatoes in August to share with visitors, in particular the red-skinned Pontiacs, an early variety; however, the majority remain in the ground. By the time you are reading this, I hope to have them all out and curing.  I have three different plots of ‘taters, holding both early and mid-season varieties. The differences between the beds is tell-tale. The patch basking in full sun all day has foliage that is completely died back, while the second, smaller plot also in full sun but ringed by peas and tomatoes, has yellowed foliage. The third and largest plot, which is shaded by the cabin by late afternoon has foliage just beginning to lose it’s green. The garden’s message to me would seem to be clear; comparing yields from each plot will finish off this lesson, for sure!

 sunflower in a worn-out pair of Limmer boots

Sunflowers are blooming brazenly from all sides of our clearing, and the flower buds of the jerusalem artichokes are poised to burst. Winter squash - including a mammoth blue hubbard! — will be brought in before the first frost.

Soon enough I’ll be mulching the fruit trees as they harden off for the winter, and eyeing the horseradish for some fall zing. Until then, though, there’s still tomatoes to pick and nasturtium to munch on. Autumn may be slippin' in, but summer has not left just yet.

Garden work is my specialty! Weeding, planting, mulching and pruning services available, plus edible landscapes and garden designs.  Contact Beth via for your annual, perennial, herbal, or ornamental garden needs (see Business Directory listing under ‘Garden Design & Services’).

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