Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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9/22/2014

It’s happened - first once, then twice this week alone: a killing frost.  The weatherman was helpful on these counts, and the advance advisory let me spend the hours prior harvesting.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, pumpkins, and winter & summer squash were all brought in before any damage was done to the produce themselves.Tomatoes post-frost

Now, root crops and hardier brassica vegetables are still holding their own, sturdy and strong.  But the other garden beds, including the empty plots where a cover crop of oats is replacing potatoes, onions, garlic, and dry beans suggest a sort of vacancy to the garden.  As Ryan noted with a chuckle, “Well...it looks a bit tidier with nothing in it!”

The post-frost gardenTrue, and an observation I’ve made myself at times.  There is an order created by emptiness.  Instead, though, we spend the warmer months finding the winsome beauty and energetic bounty in the lush chaos of a verdant garden.  The weeds, the stump sprouts, the unruly herbs, the unstoppable raspberries, the preening cleome, and the dominating squash vines, not to mention the over-achieving beans and chest-high broccoli.

The mint continues to hold its ground, and the raspberries can’t believe they’ll have to be pruned.  Still, things are changing.  The clover is no longer growing by the hour, and the weeds, ever pushy and persistent in over-extending their reach are, nonetheless, slowly settling into contented retirement around the edges I’ve worked to maintain.  Paths and contours are re-defined, beginnings and endings are readily visible.  “Crazy” isn’t the first word called to mind by a glance out the window.  

The squash vines are now crumpled and condensed within the wooden confines of our kitchen compost bin, though they still, somehow, spill beyond its borders, but without the authoritative vigor of the summer.  Walkways are now serving their purpose, and the days of jumping plants that had grown too big for their beds are behind us.  Until next year.

Which is already in sight, despite the fact that this very season is not yet concluded.  But the weeding, cover cropping, and applying of compost during these weeks are what unites the present with the approaching future.  No season exists distinct from its predecessors, and the health of future vegetable generations depend on the care given to the garden at the conclusion of each preceding season.  As summer officially transitions to fall, and all too quickly into winter, the fate of past, present, and future gardens continue to be woven together in a tangle of weeds, compost, and exceedingly delicious harvests.

Time for fall clean-up of your garden and landscaped areas!  Weeding, mulching and pruning services available, plus edible landscapes and garden designs.  Contact Beth via b.a.weick@gmail.com for your annual, perennial, herbal, or ornamental garden needs (see Business Directory listing under ‘Garden Design & Services’).



9/22/2014

cowsCows have cloven hooves (i.e. hooves split into two toes) and toenails. In nature, cows wear down their toenails naturally by walking. Unfortunately, many cows today don’t do much walking around. Instead, they are confined to barns and feedlots where they spend most of the day standing, often in manure. In these conditions, the cow's toenails are rarely trimmed and can grow too long, which can cause crippling. Many farmers with large dairy operations trim their cows’ feet annually. They put the cows onto a mechanical table that lifts them up and tips them on their sides so their feet can easily be trimmed. It is the opposite of natural.

During the past eight years running the Bob-White Systems micro-dairy, I have never trimmed my cows’ nails. In the spring, summer and fall my cows—currently Ruby, Malbec and Paneer—are on pasture and do a lot of walking. Their toes stay neatly trimmed. My way; the natural way. My cows rarely stand in manure. And when it rains, they get a foot bath. In the winter, my cows spend more time than not inside in the tie-stall barn that I've set up with nice, soft mattresses. These are great for their legs and comfort but not ideal for their toenails. When I let them out to walk in the snow (during nice weather and or while I clean the barn), their toenails get enough of a trim. As soon as they go back out to pasture in the spring, their hooves get worn down again.

All of this doesn’t mean that I am some kind of expert farm manager. What it means is that I follow a philosophy of farming that dictates that I intervene as little as possible in the lives of my cows and their land. Often, the cows know how to take care of themselves. They walk around when they need exercise — and a pedicure. They find shade when they are hot, water when they are thirsty, pasture when they are hungry, etc. Of course, I have only four cows. I run a small operation, so it is easy to work naturally. I suspect it is not so on a larger-scale dairy.

Occasionally, one of my cows’ toenails will break off a little too far up on its toe. Of course, this is painful, just like a torn nail on a human is painful. Still, with time, I know that the nail will heal and the broken portion will slough off. I prefer this to lifting the cow up, laying her down on her side in a cage and trimming her feet with a grinder or hoof knife. I once had a cow at a friends’ farm that had her hooves trimmed using the lift and hoof knife. When the trimmer went to put the cow down, he broke her leg. It was sad and, in my mind, preventable.

http://youtu.be/UfiSts075nE

When I had a bigger farm and milked 70 or so Jerseys, I had my cows' feet trimmed as they stood upright in a stall. This was years ago. The trimmer — a trained expert who came down from Maine to trim hooves for several farms — used a sharp chisel and wooden mallet. If I had to trim my cows feet now, that's how I would do it. But, I don't do it, and you now know why. In my mind, this is one in a list of benefits for man and beast of the Micro Dairy life.

To learn more about raising cows on a micro-dairy, visit Bob-White Systems on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/FarmsteadDairy.



9/18/2014

Homestead Garden Harvest BountyIt's like a slow-coming tsunami that's now crashing in over my kitchen, as if the Earth trembled under the garden and lifted beans, cucumbers, cabbages and squash to flood the counters. Between now and say, late October, hundreds of empty jars will be brought out from storage and filled with pickles, sauerkraut, apple sauce and salsa, and tucked away for winter. From then on we'll bring those jars from our root cellar back up onto the counters and feast on the stored garden bounty long into next summer.

It's a task, to bring the harvest from our gardens in and put it up in ways that will preserve it. Pretty much every day for the next couple of months I'll spend part of the day filling our cellar back up, one way or another, whether it's chopping cabbage for kraut, picking apples, sorting storing pears, drying herbs, packing carrots or canning tomatoes. I know what it takes, but I also know what I get. Last year Dennis and I went through several months in the depth of winter and spent less than $50 on food. Still, we had unlimited access to better, fresher and more food than ever before in our lives.

Questions About a Self-Sufficient Lifestyle

One of the most frequent questions we get on this self-sufficient lifestyle is if it's not a lot of work. Often it comes as a comment “This must be so much work.” Many have admitted to me that they once canned and stored put food away for the winter but found it to be too much work, so they stopped and now rely on stores for their grocery needs.

When I first came to Maine, Dennis and I also depended on the store for our food and the lumber yard for most of our building materials. Throughout the summer and fall we ate from our garden but the rest of the year we stopped at the grocery store about once a week and usually bought one head of cabbage, one bag of carrots, a rutabega, potatoes and a weekly splurge, like celery or a squash. The rest of our diet was rice, beans and oats that we bought in bulk through a buying club. On Sundays we usually went to visit Dennis' family and treated ourselves with a to-go coffee from the gas station.

This was our way, a strategy, to get to where we are now. By turning every dime we could afford not to have a paying job and instead stay at home and work to achieve the Hostel and our viable homestead. By also staying away from debt and instead having the patience and prevalence to go through years of scraping by, we eventually we came ahead, and now we still can work at home and have all the rewards that money could, or couldn't buy.

Big Rewards

sauerkrautAnd me, I no longer talk about how much work it is – I'd like to talk about the rewards, that far outweighs the labor. Faced with the task of harvesting food, milling lumber, cutting firewood or any other chore we do, we do it with our gaze set on the outcome. For each passing year we're working out systems that allow tasks to be executed with as little work as possible, for example how to process food in a time efficient manner, prevent weeds before they start to grow, how to plant the garden in the spring and put it to bed in the fall. That too is a thresh hold we've climbed, Dennis and I. With patience and prevalence we've overcome some of the homesteading hurdles and can now take on the year to year tasks knowing that we can get it done in a quick and satisfying way.

As homesteaders, all the rewards are directly ours to keep and compared with the time and labor invested the return is very high, and for every year, increasing. Our work provides most of our necessities but the multiple returns we get from our homestead also give us what money couldn't buy, such as the self reliance, sense of security, dignity, the beautiful place where we spend our days and the choice to set our own schedule. Since we have no debt, we can navigate outside a system where, due to how general finances, mortgages, credits and corporations function, most people will never break even or come ahead.

To talk about the rewards when others talk about the workload is also a way for me to say that living of the land, doing physical work, growing food and pursuing a path of simplicity is possible and positive. It's a way to look beyond the hurdles and the issues and to see the beauty of the garden, the gratitude from our Hostel guests, the year round abundance of food and the viable and righteous lifestyle it offers.



9/17/2014

Monday, September 1st: Labor Day

Monday’s work day was somewhat abbreviated due to Labor Day, which was a nice surprise. This week, my morning chore was to work with the turkeys and the hens at the Feathernet, which I enjoy doing. To refresh your memory, the turkeys get moved every two days and the Feathernet gets moved every three. On days where the birds do not get moved, we usually set up nets for the next day’s move along with feeding and giving the birds their grit.

After breakfast, we split up to do different projects and interns Greer, Will and I went with Daniel Salatin to one of the rental farms to modify their water system. Our objective was to dig a trench into one of the farm ponds, making it deep enough where we could pump out clean water (If the area is to shallow, you get dirt and muck in your water.) and close enough where the pump hose could reach it. Polyface has a digging attachment they can stick on one of the tractors, which was fun to watch. We ended up getting the afternoon off and while most people went to shoot skeet, I went to a coffee shop to upload my blog. :)

Tuesday, September 2nd

Tuesday morning, we fed the turkeys and moved the Feathernet. We were moving them across a farm road, which was a slightly longer distance than the birds are used to, so the move took a little bit longer than I’m sure they’re used to.

After a quick breakfast, intern Josh and I did buying club load up, which you may remember from other blog posts that I enjoy. Polyface had run a sale on turkeys and with it being back to school, a lot of people tend to start stocking up on food for the year. This weeks load up was pretty big and took us until lunch to assemble and put away in the freezers. We spent the rest of the day at one of Polyface’s rental farms sorting cows and moving them to different pasture. We needed to assemble ten cows to send to slaughter and check on the calves and their mothers, which we were able to do all at once. My job in the sort was to man the gate and Daniel would call out if he wanted a certain cow or not as he directed parts of the herd to this corral I was managing. You have to be alert when sorting cows because when one that you don’t want squeaks in through the gate, it is a pain for Daniel to have to go in and sort it out. The move and sort went really well and we had a lot of nice looking animals to choose from.

Wednesday, September 3rdCooler

After chores, we interns assembled for the long anticipated slaughterhouse (or abattoir if you prefer) tour. I had never been to a slaughterhouse, so I was a little nervous about what to expect. We interns had all been wanting to go, as we’ve assembled many a trailer of animals to send to this plant and we knew that once things started to slow down a bit at the farm, we would get the chance to go. I would like to report that I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting to feel grossed out or at the very least overstimulated, but I felt neither. The facility was incredibly clean and organized with an emphasis on creating a low stress environment for the animals. On the day we went, the staff was processing some of the Polyface cows, which was very impactful for me. This was my first chance to see the whole cycle as it relates to the cattle. I had sorted these cows with Daniel and intern Brandon the day before and here they were for all of us to see. 

If you had asked me even a year ago if I ever thought going to a slaughterhouse wouldn’t be an entirely unpleasant experience for me, I would have looked at you like you were crazy. Until this summer, my impression of such enterprises had been influenced by the media and pro-vegetarian documentaries, where I thought of slaughterhouses as dirty, foul, dark places where animals suffer and are brutally killed, which is part of the reason why Polyface’s outdoor poultry processing operation was so intriguing to me initially, but this is not what this slaughterhouse was like. I know from first hand observation that that the owners and the staff of this abattoir want a low stress environment for the animals. If I may, I’d like to explain why I now think more favorably of other smaller slaughterhouses without having seen them. In my own extrapolation, having worked with livestock this summer, stressed out animals are harder to handle, work with and be around. It only makes sense to me that other slaughterhouses follow similar humane handling practices. Besides the emotional benefits for all involved, humane handling is more efficient, thus more profitable. I’m sure there are outliers, but for the most part, I’d like to give small to mid-size slaughterhouses the benefit of the doubt. Plus, they need an inspector present for USDA certification and you can be sure avoiding the wrath of the USDA is a priority for these businesses. It would be for me. But I digress.

That night, some of the interns and Eric, our apprentice manager, collected stewing hens for chicken processing tomorrow. Stewing hens make delicious broth and we had recently sold out of our stewer inventory. These hens are fast and are much easier to gather when they’re bedding down for the night. We were able to round them up fairly quickly and get them settled for the evening.

Thursday, September 4th 

Since our usual processing day, Wednesday, as occupied with mind expansion and new life experiences, we processed chickens on Thursday. After tending to the turkeys and Feathernet hens, intern Josh and I collected about 200 broilers with Jonathan, one of our apprentices.

I was on the legging station and I can assure you that working on stewing hens is much more intensive than working on a broiler. The broilers are between seven and nine weeks old by the time they are processed and the stewing hens are usually two to three years old. This gives the stewers time to grow very strong cartilage at their joints, making legging harder on you and your knife. I had gutted stewers before coming here when helping with processing on the farm that Dan (my Dan back in New Hampshire, not Daniel Salatin, just to be clear) had worked at previously, and it is a much different experience than gutting a broiler. Basically, it takes longer and is messier. But that is okay. They are different builds and different organs are more fully developed, so it takes a while to get used to the transition. I am, however, looking forward to some lovely chicken soup.

Friday, September 5thChicken

Friday was a bit of an odds and ends day as we were preparing for the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund’s annual fundraiser, which was to take place this weekend. After taking care of the turkeys and laying hens, intern Tim and I set out three pens of broiler chicks (the last batch of this year!), helped repair some gates and fencing at one of the pig pastures and cleared brush for a fence line Joel was cutting back.

After lunch, we set out trash cans and the like for the fundraiser, built a log wall in one of the barns (Think lincoln logs but with actual trees) and did evening chores. That evening, as part of the fundraiser, we were able to go to a street fair and dinner put on by Farm to Consumer. There were some different vendors and organizations there supporting local food and Joel was given an award by the mayor of Staunton, VA (the town the fair was held) honoring him for his significant contributions to the local food movement. It was fun to see so many enthusiastic people and see Joel get his award. And there were brownies. Yay.

Saturday, September 6th

I was on the schedule to work this weekend, which ended up being fortuitous for me. I like when there are events at Polyface, so it was fun to be able to participate. After morning chores, we interns were invited to partake in Farm to Consumer’s welcome breakfast, which was generous of them. There was a farm tour, which I got to attend even though I was technically working (I can work and be inspired by Joel at the same time… multitasking!), followed by lunch and some speakers. I ended up joining the organization and suggest that those of you who haven’t yet do so. This organization has done a lot to educate farmers of their rights when it comes to food laws, illegal search and seizure and all kinds of other complicated legalese. It also gives consumers a way to help farmers and keep our local small farms out of legal trouble. They are also nice folks and were a pleasure to have around the farm.

Farm to Consumer Day

We are down to three weeks left… I’m getting excited to head home, see the people and pets that I miss, and apply what I’ve learned here to my own farm business, but it will be weird not seeing all my intern, staff and animal friends that I’ve become accustomed to. Good thing for the internet. For most people, they’re never more than a few keystrokes away.



9/17/2014

Tanning A Buffalo Hide

I've brain-tanned my fair share of deer, squirrels, groundhogs, foxes and sundry other creatures unfortunate enough to cross Route 9 near our farm and school in West Virginia; but the farmers market seemed nervous about the prospect of giving us the skin when they slaughtered the next in their herd. Either way, we spent months calling, negotiating, anticipating and mostly, waiting.

American Natives weren't the only early people to practice brain-tanning; it was a wide-spread practice whereby the brain of the animal provides the lecithin needed to naturally tan the hide. Today, modern tanneries use awful chemicals like chromium sulfate, but primitive humans used any source of tannins whether from lecithin in brains, or from certain barks or vegetables.  Many American natives revered the buffalo and tanned its hide in a highly ritualistic manner. Buffalo skins provided homes, clothes and food for the Lakota and other people of the American interior.

As a kid, I remember traveling across the country with a plastic buffalo super glued to the dash board, anxiously peering out the window of the Dodge Caravan, waiting for my first glance of a real live buffalo. The feeling was exactly the same waiting for the call from the farmer's market that we would be getting a hide.

Brain-Tanning is a Big Job

We knew it would be a big job. Brain-tanning a big deer can take 3 to 4 days for one person, so we definitely wanted help.  We sent out an alert on the Facebook page letting our students and neighbors know that we would be trading brain-soaked, 25-degree-Fahrenheit, stooped-over labor for ... well, apple cider.

When we picked up the hide at the butcher's, we found out that the sow had been almost full-term with two calves. We dolefully loaded the 55-gallon barrel holding the bloody pelt along with the two unborn buffalo whom we wanted to honor. We weren't quite sure what to do once we got the two perfectly formed little buffalo home, so we took them to the western end of the school, towards the setting sun and the land of the buffalo and buried them in a patch of lamb's quarter. Maybe it was a silly gesture, but a part of me felt responsible for those two calves and the realities of our effects on other creatures is something I try to lean into instead of turning away. But now the hard work started. We decided to dry scrape the hide, which means building a rack.  This was a big animal, so we got 16 foot 2-by-4s and built a square to stretch the hide out in. We sent out the alert. "Everybody who wants to tan a buffalo, be here tomorrow by 9 am, and stay all weekend!"

Scraping Animal Hides

Tanning a Buffalo Hide in Winter

Sure it was 25 degrees and there was snow on the ground, but folks showed up and we scraped and scraped and scraped and scraped and warmed by the fire and then scraped some more.  We scraped using traditional stone tools as well as ulu knives and plain old butter knives. The turkeys helped out too, picking scraps out of the grass.

Later we heated the brains with water and started rubbing them into the giant skin. Over 4 weeks, we brained the hide 6 or 7 times. We could tell the snow accumulation by how high up the buffalo rack the drifts were. Slowly, she dried and tightened, straining the wooden rack. I rendered the fat we pulled off of the hide into wonderful bison tallow, gifts back to our helpers on that first weekend.

We now have the bison hung in our main pavilion, and the 20 or so people who were a part of the hard work show her off to other students and stop by to touch the fur and admire their work.  A huge part of what we do is build community that strives to live an authentic life, and this wonderful animal helped us along the way.



9/16/2014

One of the worst traits of humankind is our reliance on fossil fuels and the incessant depletion of non renewable resources. There are many alternatives and yet the majority of the world still acquires energy using practices which are causing irreversible damage to the earth, the people, the land, the air and the water. The exploitation of natural resources and reliance on coal powered plants and nuclear energy plants will lead to a dismal future if solution based renewable energy systems are not replaced as the norm.

Introducing Aur Beck

Luckily, individuals like Aur Beck are shedding light on the easy transition to choosing renewable energy. My dear friend, Aur 'da energy mon' Beck, has been immersed in the growing field of renewable energy since he was a teenager. In 1990 at age 15, after independently researching solar energy, Aur moved into a 12 volt,  battery operated camper in his parents’ driveway.

Aur translates as "light" or "to enlighten" in both Hebrew and Latin, a perfect name for a solar energy expert. According to Aur, “reading profusely and consistently tinkering with Renewable Energy (RE) has been a continuous constant throughout my life. Never officially attending school left me time to do in depth study, intern, view, and install renewable energy projects. Of course, working in one of the first United States passive solar schools helped.”

The Power of One

Aur is the president, chief tech, and coordinator of the Renewable Energy Install Network (Green Geek Squad) for Advanced Energy Solutions. Since 1999, he has been putting his knowledge to great use promoting, installing, & educating about renewable energy.

Aur has made significant contributions to Solar Energy in recent years. Aur sheds his light in many ways:

Founder and on the board for both the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and the Southern Illinois Center for a Sustainable Future
Started Oil Addicts Anonymous International
Hosts a weekly radio talk show called Your Community Spirit
AESsolar won the “Missouri Schools Going Solar” contract in 2005 and assisted with the sale and installation of 17 school systems
January 2007, trained presenter for Al Gore’s Climate Project
Based on the vast knowledge base Aur has in the field of renewable energy, he was invited to join the Midwest Solar Training Network (a DOE program) and to become an adjunct professor at Hocking Energy Institute in Logan, Ohio

Aur grew up on the family farm in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest, in an off-the-grid, solar-electric-powered home which makes it very easy to advocate for a life of simpler living, energy efficiency and renewable energy. Aur came up with and definitely lives by Advanced Energy Solutions slogan: We Empower YOU to Get Energized!

Dedication to Sustainable Living

I have been impressed with Aurs dedication to sustainable living and renewable energy since I first met him in 2000. One of Aurs most notable accomplishments in the last few years was being hand selected and invited to teach a semester of Solar PV Design and Installation by Neil Hinton, the Dean of the School of Engineering and Information Technology of the Hocking College Energy Institute in Nelsonville Ohio. This is impressive in light of the fact that Aur hasn’t been through any formal schooling whatsoever. He has no degree but he is a living breathing encyclopedia of all things solar. Aurs ability to confidently teach at a college level with no formal training is very inspiring. Not only does it encourage others to follow their dreams but it also offers a bit of insight into just how powerful it is to be passionate about what you do in life sans a degree.

At the Energy Institute, Aur inspired students by his minds on/ hands on teaching methods. He tested their knowledge initially to try and fill in the knowledge gaps throughout the semester. He gave them useful and practical knowledge which can actually be related to real world applications.

The reason he was selected to teach is due, in part, to him being double NABCEP certified. Helping students in the program taking The NABCEP, (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) Entry Level knowledge test was his primary goal.

Inspiration is cyclical. Renewable energy can reshape the future.

Advanced Energy Solutions

To learn more about Aur and his company, please visit his website.  Advanced Energy Solutions offers:

Solar and Wind Generated Electricity
Energy Efficiency
Utility-Tied/Net Metered or Off-Grid Systems
System Design
System and Component Sales
Installation
On-site Consulting and Electric Load Analysis
Follow-up on Technical Assistance and Service
Training from Basic to Advanced hands installation
Training Programs-designing & installing hands on training labs

Aur also manages a living off-grid Facebook group.



9/16/2014

Goldenrod

When those golden heads start to open up, it is a sign for me to make one last harvesting visit to the hive. If there’s any “available-for-people” honey left, now is the time I take it. There are three reasons for this rationale: (1) I don’t want any goldenrod honey in the honey I sell. Some people actually do like it, but when it’s in the hive, it stinks to high heaven and I’ve never been able to get it past my nose! (2) It (and aster honey as well) crystallizes at record-breaking speed. Although I don’t mind crystallized honey (it spreads like peanut butter!), lots of people don’t like it and I don’t want to sell them honey that won’t make them completely happy (3) The girls love goldenrod and its highly nutritious, so I let them collect all they can to overwinter on!

Beekeeping in Fall

So with any luck, I’ll do one more honey harvest and then switch over to my fall/winter inspections. In the fall the queen slows her egg laying and the bee population declines to ensure that the foodstuffs will be sufficient to make it through the winter.  The fewer the bees, however, the harder it is for the girls to defend against interlopers.  So fall is the time for pretty frequent checks for varroa, food store progression, etc. It is also the time robbers such as yellow jackets, hornets and wasps make their move on unsuspecting, weaker hives.

The saying goes, “Take your losses in the fall,” and I totally agree. It’s better to take two weak hives and combine them than to try and carry them through the winter struggling.  There’s more chance a combined hive will make it to next spring when they will again build up and you can split them back out into two hives!

Greenhouse After Hurricane ArthurSummer Problems in the Beeyard

It’s been a tough summer. Way too much rain! And when you live in the Original Down East of North Carolina where you’re only three feet above sea level to begin with, it means a lot of soggy days wearing fisherman’s boots, not being able to cut the grass, and even though your veggies are in raised beds, pretty crummy yields. The beans, radishes, lettuce, peppers and potatoes put on a pretty good harvest but my cabbage plants, squash and tomatoes were a disaster!  I’m hoping the monsoon-type rain will stop soon. I still haven’t put in my winter garden and pretty soon it’ll be too late.

To add insult to injury, Hurricane Arthur hit us as a category two and for the first time in my life in NC it wasn’t the surge that got us (very little water with Arthur), it was the winds! Four days of cleaning up branches and limbs — and my greenhouse was flattened!  What a heartbreak! And now they’re forecasting a killer winter! Up go the hoop houses!

I see from my last blog post that I left you hanging regarding the two splits that weren’t making queens.  Well, I finally decided to get a couple of queens from Ricky Coor of Spring Bank Apiary (the best queens in NC in my humble opinion).  Due to the popularity of his queens, however, I had to wait until May 27! I was worried about laying workers, but Ricky gave me a trick: Give a queenless hive a frame of open brood (at this point in time they had only capped brood)! It worked and I installed the new queens on May 28. Both hives accepted the queens without hesitation, and when I checked on June 1, both queens had been released from their cages.

Unfortunately, for a reason I cannot fathom, one of the splits lost even the new queen, and they had dwindled to point where I knew they would not rebound—barely a handful. So I just dumped the remainder in front of one of the other hives and took their hive away. A paper combine is not necessary when there is such a small number of bees. They will go to another hive and their demeanor will let the hive know they are not robbers and they will be allowed to join the colony.

Managing Bee Swarms Swarm

On June 8, I checked the two swarms I had gotten from Edgewater Gardens. One was fine; the other had lost its queen and had dwindled. I was totally discouraged so I just did a paper combine with one of the established hives.

It makes me nervous that I can’t get an answer as to the queen failures I’ve been experiencing over the past two years.  I also find it interesting to note that the two hives that were originally established thirteen years ago (!) continue to thrive. I assume the genetic diversity that has gone through those hives has built up the bees’ immune systems and that they are better able to deal with the new problems confronting the honey bee. Neither of those two hives has ever been given a queen “from the outside.” I always let my girls requeen themselves if I possibly can.

On July 25, when I went out to open the chickens, I noticed a very small swarm in the vitex! A very easy swarm to catch: I merely snipped off the branch and shook them into a nuc, gave them a frame of honey, a frame of pollen, and a frame of brood. That was it!  They were happy as could be. And I did all of this in my nightgown!  But once I got back inside I thought, “That was a very small swarm of bees. Darn! It’s got to be an afterswarm and I missed the original, much bigger swarm.” I decided right there I’d better check the other hives to see if there were any signs of swarming. I got dressed and went behind the garden shed to grab some hay for the smoker when lo and behold! The Seeley swarm trap that I had moved under the shelter out of harm’s way of Hurricane Arthur was buzzing with a very large swarm! I dumped them in a hive and they’re now happily humming in the beeyard!  Since then the hive in the nuc has grown and is now living in a deep.  I expect to add a super for the goldenrod collection. So once again, all is well at the Bees a Charm Apiary.  I haven’t had a big honey harvest this year, but the honey I did get is beautiful and delicious.  Hopefully, I’ll get some more in my next and final harvest.

Carolina Home and GardenAnnual Honey Tasting

Crystal Coast Beekeepers had their annual honey tasting the second Monday of September.  It’s always so interesting and astounding to see all the different honeys that are produced here in our little county.  No two honeys are alike!  We always have a wonderful time at the honey tasting.Bee Gum

We were pleased to do a presentation to gardeners at Carolina Home and Garden, with information on gardening for the honey bee, handouts, and an observation hive.  We’ll be doing the Day for Kids in Emerald Isle again this year and will be handing out honey sticks!  Don’t know what the kids like better: the observation hive or the honey sticks!

I also had the pleasure of attending Joel Salatin’s last field day at Polyface Farms. We can all learn a lot from Mr. Salatin and his son’s beehives are wonderful. He even has a bee gum that he’s fit with a Langstroth honey super! I think it’s so great that the bees give him honey in a Langstroth yet they’re still able to live in a tree! Marvelous!

That’s it for now. Hope you are enjoying my bee adventures. Please contact me with any questions/concerns/comments you have. Would love to hear from you!









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