Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


I love spring, when we can finally get out to the beeyard and open up those beehives! This past weekend we had the right conditions to do the first full hive inspections of the year. Temperatures were in the 50’s and 60’s, nice and sunny, and not too breezy. Perfect!

We basically follow the same routine for each hive, which I will outline below.

1. First we puff a little smoke into the hive, wait a few minutes, then remove the outer and inner covers. For the hives we are feeding, we remove the hive top feeder. We take a peek in the top of the hive to see how the population looks. SomBees And Larvaee of the things we look for are the size of the cluster, the gentleness (or aggressiveness) of the bees, and signs of any pests such as small hive beetles.

2. We then start looking at the frames in the top hive body. We look for the queen, or if we can’t find her, eggs and brood.  The picture to the right shows a frame of worker bees on a frame of eggs and larvae.  In most cases the brood, eggs, and queen are in the top hive box at this point in time. After we have inspected the frames, we take the top box off, and set it aside. We then take a look at the next hive body. In our stronger hives we tend to find capped brood in this box, but in some hives it was empty, with just some honey. We continue working our way down until we have removed all of the hive bodies. As we inspect each frame, we also scrape off any “burr comb” (comb that the bees have built above and below the frames). This will help us avoid crushing bees when we put the hive bodies back on later.

3. We then remove the screened bottom board, and brush it off outside of the beeyard to remove the dead bees and other debris that have accumulated over the winter. We also lift up the hive stand, and brush off any debris that have accumulated there. We then replace the hive stand and bottom board.

4. Now we put the hive bodies back, but not in the same order they were in. We take the top hive body that had the queen, eggs, and brood, and put that on the bottom. If there was a second box with capped brood, we put that on next. For the third hive body, we put a box that is a mix of capped honey, pollen, and empty comb. If any of the remaining boxes had mostly empty comb, we shake off the remaining bees into the hive, and remove that box. This way the queen has room to work her way upwards laying eggs. Later in the season we will add more boxes of honey supers.

5. Finally, we add a sprinkle of a pollen substitute such as MegaBee, to give the bees a boost in brood production, before replacing the inner and outer covers, (or the feeders if honey stores seem low and we think they need supplemental feeding).

For most of the hives, they are all set until we are ready to start adding honey supers. The majority of the hives had good laying pattern, calm bees, and a nice mix of brood, pollen, honey, and empty frames to fill with brood or nectar. However, we did run into a few problems that need our attention.

One hive was extremely aggressive. As soon as we took off the outer and inner cover, the bees began flying directly at our veils. We quickly closed them back up, and will try to inspect them again on another day. If this aggression continues, we may have to look at ordering a new queen for them. I like to be able to relax and enjoy my bees, and these bees did not seem happy at all!

Two of our hives had very low populations, with a cluster that is only about the size of a softball. While they do both have queens who are laying eggs, it seems as though there is not a lot of eggs and brood. For these hives we reduced them to just one medium hive body that had brood, honey, pollen, and some empty space for the queen to lay eggs. We gave them the pollen substitute, and will continue to feed them. We talked to some other beekeepers about the problem and got several suggestions, listed below.

1. Just leave them alone and see if they build up. They may have just had a hard winter, and need more time to build up to the same levels as the other hives.

2. Since there are not many eggs or brood, the queen isn’t doing her job. Kill the queen, and combine them with other hives. We can then order more queens to make splits from the hives that are doing well later this summer to replace these hives.

3. Since they did lose many adult bees during the winter, it may be that the queen is performing well, but that there are not enough adult worker bees to care for the brood. Take some frames of brood and nurse bees from other strong hives, add them to the weak hives, and see if that helps them build up.

As it turns out, we are going to try a combination of these methods. Right after we did these inspections, it got cold again (in fact, it snowed this morning). So, we will need to leave the weak hives alone until at least the following weekend. At that point we can check them and see if they are doing any better. If not, I would like to add the brood from another hive, and see if they take off. If they still don’t look good after another week, we will kill the queens and combine them with another hive. I don’t like the idea of killing a queen, but if the hive isn’t going to make it, it is better to save the worker bees that are left than to lose them all.

One more thing I want to mention – make sure you take a moment to enjoy the time in the beeyard! For me it is so gratifying to get back out in the beeyard and spend some time with the bees. I hope you enjoy it as well!

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


mooseIt was mid-April, and I was away for a weekend helping a friend and her family inoculate a new season’s worth of shiitake mushroom logs.  It was a short trip away, but at this time of year, changes seem to punctuate each hour.  Thus, upon my return two days later, I was astounded by how little snow cover remained.  Winter wrens were singing my approach, and the roar of the river left no question in my mind as to it’s frigid power.

I walked towards our clearing, smiling to see our footbridges now visible without snow.  A wave of joy washed over me at the first sight of the shed, and the cabin beyond.  I quickly spotted moose tracks through the mud, and wondered how the creature was finding spring.  In the few moments it took to walk to our granite stoop, my eyes caught the daffodils and tulips poking through leaf duff beside the sunny rocks out front.  I noticed that sufficient snow had melted to allow for the pruning of winter damage from our young fruit trees and the tidying up of our many blueberry bushes - I would do that after unpacking.  I righted the snow shovel that had fallen when it’s snow drift slumped, and picked up the snow stake that no longer had snow at its base.  Evidence of spring was sending me so many details to grasp I didn’t see what was right beside me.

My hand on the door handle, I turned to call Mica.  Instead, I chortled my own words into a surprised gasp of “oh...hey...” The moose itself was looking right at me.

While it seemed to find my obliviousness curious, it did not find my speech reassuring.  It trotted away towards the eastern woodline, kindly sidestepping the asparagus patch.  From there, we watched each other obliquely.  I, for one, was trying to watch subtly, without staring.  Perhaps she was doing the same.  She seemed well-fed, and her coat thick.  The exception, though, being high on her withers.  There, significant bare spots were visible -  the result, I assumed, of rubbing herself against tree trunks trying to alleviate the persistence of winter ticks.

She nosed about, then turned and headed north, again staying just to the side of the now snow-free garden beds.  I whispered a thank-you.

As the afternoon went on, I finished pruning and spent the later hours splitting wood for fall.  The moose continued to come back and forth, and we cautiously shared the clearing for brief moments.  At times it was I who retreated to the cabin; other times it was she who double-backed to the woodline.  Eventually she trotted off, delicately picking a path along the old woods trail.

My own elation at bare ground, plant buds, and warm sun kept me outside to the dinner hour.  The moose, perhaps, in her own way, was experiencing her own pleasure in the coming of spring.

Spring is here! Time to prune your fruit trees, berry bushes, and ornamental shrubs! Time to design your garden! Time to purchase new nursery stock! Contact Beth via for your garden and orchard needs.


I am petrified of bees. This is no secret to the people that know me. Often times I’ll jump up in a shrieking jig if a wasp, yellow jacket, bumblebee or honeybee flies my way. I get stung. Often. Once while I was on the toilet. I once came home to my bathroom full of bees after a hive broke in our walls. I still have nightmares about it.

When my husband spent a summer helping out a master beekeeper and fell in love with bees, I didn’t think much of it. When we finally bought our farm this fall and he insisted on getting a hive of our own, I was anxious. When we ordered our be package in January, I tried to put it out of my head – after all, April was a long way away and we had bigger issues to face getting through the winter.

When March finally arrived, so did our hive. My husband painted it himself, and obsessively read bee keeping literature. I continued to try to live in denial. This Tuesday, the bees arrived. I was at work when my husband went to get our bee package with my father-in-law, but he texted me pictured that made my stomach drop.

The bee box   bee close up

Even though I wasn’t there to witness it, the installation of the bees into the hive went well. Of the four people that were there during the process, not one got stung. I watched the video and did my best not to cringe.

wes with bees

The bees have been with us now for several days, and despite the nights that have dipped well below freezing, they seem to be doing well. My husband goes out to visit them each day. I have yet to face them myself.

bee hive

I do plan on making my peace with the bees. I am planting several varieties of flowers just for them, and will do my part to keep them happy and healthy – from a safe distance. When I see one while I’m gardening I will take a deep breath and think about what a help they will be to plants and my saplings. I will not swat at them, and instead picture all of the delicious honey I will enjoy this fall. And most of all, I will do my best not to have a panic attach when my husband starts to talk about all of the hives he wants to put in next year.

Carrissa Larsen runs a small farm with her husband in southern Maine. To follow the adventures of Feather and Scale Farm daily, please stop by and "Like" their Facebook page or visit their farm website for updates


chickOur second order of chicks arrived.  Complete with a free exotic heritage breed chick, thanks Murray McMurray!  The healthy chick count is high with an excellent survival rate.  The original chicks, at almost 3 weeks old are growing fat in a couple of huge plastic dog houses on the deck.  They have heat lamps at night, fresh air always and a great view during the day.  A couple managed to wriggle under my hardware cloth door screen in the night and were a fluffy reminder to close that barrier up tight.

Fish the rabbit is now grazing in the open of the poultry yard daily, seems to have settled in nicely.  No ducklings for Jerry yet, she is two days past the 28 day incubation mark and pretty immature herself.  I figure give in to her mothering instincts another week to be safe and then clean out her nest and let her begin again.  

After getting some beans on to simmer for refried burrito filling, rolling some raw veggie n sprout (High Mowing Seeds sprout mixes are the seed bomb!) and getting all the morning feeding done-kiddo included, I went to water my seedlings.  It is never pleasant to be faced with your shortcomings.  No one likes a surprise photo from the rear or brick like bread, I speak from personal experience people!

My carefully tended, lit and misted repurposed egg cartons and trays look mostly like dirt.  A few weak  spindly struggling little troopers attempting to stand.  I read directions, tend daily, and read homesteading references galore.  Like my alarmingly sturdy loaves, these seeds are a mirror into what I lack.  Apparently a green thumb is also useful for kneading...

So I looked through my seed packets to figure out a direct seeding plan, and ordered organic starts from Azure Standard in Dufur, Oregon through the Orofino 7th Day Adventist Church.  They ought to come with our organic produce, field fencing, organic chicken chow and fertilizer order towards the end of the month.  My history with little plants is decent.  I rely on heritage breeds and plants, compost, good intentions and strong fencing for my heretofore gardening success.  The starts look beautiful online and sometimes for the sake of time, sanity and food to eat one must concede.  

Maybe its the soft background music of miraculous chicken fluff, or the glow of a 4 year old rediscovering the soft air of outdoor spring, or just my age; I am choosing my hill to die on and it's not going to be the mounds of freshly planted potatoes. 


dandelionBees do not live on honey alone.

Pollen = Protein

Like all living things, honeybees need protein. The protein that bees use comes from plant pollen. Grains of pollen contain amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. As bees gather from different flowers, a variety of amino acids are collected and complete proteins are available to the bee. Think of this as like when human vegetarians combine beans and rice to make a complete protein meal.

Bees utilize the protein by mixing pollen with digestive enzymes and a bit of nectar or honey. This creates a substance called "bee bread" which is then fed to worker bee larvae. Bee bread also contains enough antibacterial properties to be stored for a couple of months when there is a surplus. (Queens are fed royal jelly throughout their larval stage.)

Honeybees tend to choose pollen based on odor and physical configuration of the grains rather than the quality. Approximately 15 - 30 percent of worker bees foraging are collecting pollen as they visit various flowers. The hairs on their bodies pick up the pollen grains like a lint brush. As they visit flower after flower, some of these bits of pollen fall off and pollinate. The pollen that remains clinging to the bee is brushed into pollen baskets on their hind legs. If you watch closely when bees are visiting flowers you can see the pollen collected in these baskets. Look for tiny balls of color attached to their legs.

Between 33 and 121 pounds is required annually by an average sized colony to raise brood. Considering that a single bee carries a pollen load of about 18mg, that is a lot of trips back and forth to the hive. This pollen load may be up to 35 percent of their body weight. (1)

What Makes for Good Bee Pollen?

All pollens are not equally nutritious to bees. Different plants produce different qualities of proteins. For example, canola and almond produce a high quality protein pollen. Raspberries, blackberries, willow, and sunflower produce lower quality pollens but these are still attractive to honeybees. Pine trees produce a lot of pollen but it is not used by honeybees. Likewise the pollen on many ornamental plants is not useful to honeybees.


Pollen in the cells should be multi-colored as an indicator that the diet of the colony is varied. Just like humans, bees need a well balanced diet from a variety of nectar and pollen sources.

If you are thinking about planting flowers this spring, consider what might be useful to the honeybees. Crocus, flowering herbs such as thyme and basil, lavender and chives are possibilities. You might even consider letting the dandelions in your yard bloom.

Beekeeping is just one of the many activities at Five Feline Farm. Check out our Facebook page to see what else is happening this spring. 

1. Ellis, A., Ellis, J., O'Malley, M. and Nalen, C.Z. (2010) The Benefits of Pollen to Honey Bees. University of Florida Extension. Retrieved 4/2014 at


new backyard chicksThe day had come. We finally received our City of Minneapolis backyard chicken coop inspection during a Polar Votex in January. Our urban chicken permit arrived a month later. Now it is almost Easter and time to buy our new chicks and supplies. We had our hearts set on Buff Orpingtons, an orange, friendly egg layer. We arrived at the cute urban ag supply store only find that they were out. If we’d like some Buff Orpingtons, our best bet would be to order them and they would arrive a couple of weeks later. The looks on my family’s faces confirmed that this was unacceptable. Oh, the best laid plans…

After consulting the internet, we found a local joint a half hour outside of Minneapolis called Anoka Farm & Garden Store. We were greeted by a tiny, jaunty Banty rooster, then by Dave, one of the store clerks. We asked after their friendliest, cold hardiest and least flighty egg layers and came away with with two Jersey Giant Blacks, a Dominique and a Dark Cornish. All these birds are known for good to great laying, cold adaptability and all-round personable natures. The Jersey Giant Black is an American heritage breed developed in 1880 and is the largest poultry breed in the world. This great laying, friendly hen can weigh 10+ lbs! The Dominique is the original American heritage breed, existing well before 1750 in the colonies. The hens are docile, hardy, good layers and exceptionally self-sufficient. The Dark Cornish is a heritage English breed, imported into the USA in 1887. Like the Dominique, they are known for their calm, docile nature and are rumored to be the best bug catchers around. While their egg laying abilities are in great debate, it sounds like even the hens will chase off predators to protect the flock, and they are exceptionally friendly (to humans at least).

In addition to choosing our birds, Dave set us up with chick feed, a heat lamp, waterer, feeder, pine shavings bedding and some electrolytes to help the birds adapt better and prevent them from getting dehydrated and sick. We were not sure about what container to keep them in. He suggested just using a Rubbermaid plastic storage bin with a hole cut in the top, then cover the hole with chicken wire. The heat lamp can then sit right on the chicken wire to heat the bin. Once the girls are about a month old, we will move them to a large, heavy duty cardboard box, still in the house, then to the coop once they are at least 2 months old and the night time temps are over 50 degrees. It will be at least 4 to 6 months before they begin to lay eggs.

During the drive home my daughter Claire, her friend AJ, my partner Christopher and I solidified our chick’s names. We decided to name them after our great aunts. The two Jersey Giants would be named Maude and May, the Dominique was named Pearline and the Dark Cornish became Chicki Boots. AJ & Claire came up with Chicki and Christopher added the Boots. Chicki Boots is a nickname from one of his racy great aunts. We will have a full summer to get the know our new family members and get them comfortable with their home. Welcome to the neighborhood, ladies!

chick supplies


People who haven't ever milked a cow are usually very concerned about being kicked when they milk for the first time. This is understandable.  Cows are big, powerful animals, and milking puts you right beside the strong hind legs and feet.  Most properly handled cows don't kick when they are milked.  If you find yourself with what I call a kicky cow, there are steps you can take to manage the animal. Here are my tips for avoiding getting kicked and dealing with a kick-prone cow.

milking a cowMove slowly. When you approach a cow to milk her move slowly and be gentle.  Give her a little pat on the rump, be alert and avoid sudden movements.  Be confident and show no fear.  If this is a cow you have never milked before, spend some time with her before you begin the milking process.  Put your hands on her hind legs and udder to see how she reacts.  Kneel down beside her and check her udder and teats for swelling and or injuries.  Almost every cow will kick when milked if her udder and/or teats are sore.

Know your cow’s movements. If a healthy, mature cow kicks when she is being prepped for milking, it is usually because she is just annoyed — at you for bothering her.  She is not trying to hurt you.  She's just letting you know that she's there. These kicks are slower, softer and much easier to control than the kick from a cow that truly wants to hurt you.  Experienced milkers can usually predict a cow's "slow" kick.  She will shift her balance to her the hind foot that is away from you so she can kick you without falling over. 

Stay calm and get close. This may sound counter-intuitive to people who have little experience with cows, but when you go to prep and milk a kicky cow, it is much safer to stay as close as possible to her body and hind legs.  Approach your cow confidently and carefully. Kneel down beside her, get close and reassure her that you know what you are doing, even if you don't.

Lean in with your shoulder and rest your head on her flank in front of her stifle. This way, she doesn't have the room to wind her leg up and kick out.  If she tries to kick, use your shoulders and forearms as a block. In general, it never works to milk a cow from afar with your arms stretched out.  This freaks the cow out and you just look dumb.

miling a cow

Never lose your temper! Never yell at or strike a cow.  It just doesn't work.  The only thing that works is patient reassurance.  Dairy farmers know how difficult this can be.  You work all day to take good care of your cows and then they show their appreciation with a good, swift kick.  Just remember that you chose to have cows. They didn't choose to have you.

Try not to let your cows kick their milkers off. Detached and fallen milkers can suck up bedding and manure.  Be sure that the milking unit is securely attached to the cow and properly adjusted so that it hangs from the udder straight and with even pressure on all four quarters. If a cow kicks off a milker, don't lose your temper. Calmly reattach the milker and give her a little, reassuring pat. 

I know that holding your temper and staying calm can be a real challenge when milking heifers. They love to kick milkers off.  Just be patient.  You don't want your heifers to learn to fear or loath milking time.  Most cows naturally like to be milked if they view it as a positive experience.  Some of my heifers will kick off their milkers during every milking for the first few weeks.  It's a pain, but the only approach that works is patience.

milking a cowAvoid mechanical devices. I never use mechanical devices like hip clamps and hobbles to keep my cows from kicking.  There is no quicker or more effective way to teach a cow to dread the milking experience than to use these instruments.  I don't even recommend using them in an emergency.  There are better non-mechanical ways to keep a cow from kicking, including lifting her tail (see photo demonstrating this technique) and following my advice. 

Keep quiet. Create a quiet environment when milking.  Avoid loud radios and other noises, especially metal clanging against metal, slamming doors and shouts.  Most cows will get used to dogs and kids under foot and the sounds of laughter and play.  Yelling is never good.

It’s OK to move the cow. Don't be afraid to move the cow over in the stall so that you have enough room to reach the udder comfortably.  A firm push to the side will generally be enough.   She'll need to move her feet and open her stance to keep her balance.  If you trust your cows, you can also put your foot on her hoof or shin, and she'll move.  You can also use your forearm to push a leg back and out of the way.  After a while your cows will learn your routine and you will learn theirs.  It's a two way street. 

Look out for injuries. A cow with an injured teat can be a vicious kicker, intent on making you leave her teat alone.  These cows require the patience of Job as the teat heals. Just reassure her that you mean no harm and do the best you can to get her milked out.  But, stay on high alert at all times.  Some cows will trust you more than others. 

Injured teats could be the subject of an entire book.  Call your vet if you are unable to get an injured teat to pass milk.  You need to get that quarter milked out or the cow will get mastitis. Just do as little as you need to do to heal the teat.

If all else fails and you cannot change your kicky cow’s ways, sell the cow to a commercial dairy where human-cow contact is minimal.  Cows that cannot be rehabilitated aren't worth the effort or the risk of being injured, especially when you have children helping with the chores.  Plus, I have found that dealing with a mean cow first thing in the morning can ruin your whole day. The good news is that, often time, kindness and patience can do wonders to change a cow’s temperament.

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