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Winter Hives

Happy 2015! Hope you and your bees are doing well. It’s been a crazy winter so far. This past autumn the bees weren’t able to stock their hives as well as I had hoped. I usually depend upon the goldenrod for the girls’ winter stores, but goldenrod season started out too wet resulting in watered down nectar that the bees didn’t want and ended on a dry note so that no nectar was being produced. There were actually only about four good goldenrod nectar collecting days, but during that time every bee, wasp, butterfly and what-have-you pollinators were covering those lovely yellow blossoms!

Went into winter with only three hives. . .which is a great disappointment. . .but I made sure those hives were strong. Two of them were combines. So I’m hoping in the spring I’ll be able to split them. That will take me back up to five, and then I plan to order a couple of nucs to attain my max of seven (after that it ceases to be a hobby and becomes work!).

Haven’t been able to get into the hives to check stores since it’s been such a ridiculously cold  winter (for this area). Usually, my girls get to fly at least a couple of days a week, but between rain and cold, there’s been very little flying going on. So just in case, I put on hivetop feeders with 2:1 syrup in them. At first the girls were sucking it down and I went through about 40 pounds of sugar in the first couple of weeks! Now, however, they’ve stopped taking the syrup, so I’m guessing they’ve filled up the storage sites down below. Nonetheless, I check the feeders every few days to make sure they don’t go dry. Starvation during winter is the biggest danger and heartbreaking to discover if you don’t keep on top of it. So every couple of days (including today) I quickly lift the lid and take a peek. I also put my ear to the box and knock. . .three sharp raps. So far, my girls are responding with a hearty hum. In one hive (the nuc that I had moved into a deep as I reported last time) when I knocked I heard the queen! Now that really makes me want to get into that hive because you don’t usually hear the queen quack unless she’s still in a queen cell or if there are queen cells she’s looking to locate so she can sting them to death before they hatch! I dare not open the hive though, lest I chill the brood. So I’m waiting patiently for an above-sixty-degree day. When I see the girls out flying, that’s when I’ll go in!

November Newbees

Held another bee school in November and it was a record breaker! Thirty-eight newbees in attendance! The class was so large we had to move to larger quarters to accommodate everyone! It seems that with the dire situation we have and the danger of losing our beloved honey bees (no bees no food!), more and more people are becoming involved in saving our girls. And thank goodness for that. . .we need all the help we can get! Anyway, we’ve finished “the book learnin’” part of the classes and this month will move on to field work! I’m planning to have the class come to my apiary so we can run through the bee equipment “up front and personal” rather than merely looking at pictures in a catalog. We’ll place a group order for equipment and bees plus I’ll be giving away some surplus woodenware to those who want to clean it and get it ready for spring. Then to the best part. . .going into the hives! Sure, book learnin’s just fine, but I really believe you truly start to learn when you get hands on! I know on a personal level that it’s when I got into the hives that I got addicted. And with the thought of introducing all these newbees to these sweet little girls, I get just as excited about it as they do!

Another development is that in addition to my position as membership/publicity chair, I have been elected Vice President of Crystal Coast Beekeepers Association — the local chapter of NC State Beekeepers Association that I founded about eight years ago. One of the additional titles/responsibilities of the VP is “Program Manager,” so right now I’m attempting to get speakers for each of our monthly meetings for 2015. A daunting task when you’re a poor, little nonprofit, but I’m working on it. I have a few scheduled and have some more ideas, and I’ll fill you in as they come into fruition.

So, even though it’s “the slow months of winter,” I’m keeping busy and looking forward to spring and all the promises it holds!

I’d also like to let you know that there’s some good news out there regarding help for our honey bees. It seems they’re studying a possible cure for American Foulbrood through utilization of phages, and help with controlling the varroa mite through— are you ready? — mushrooms! Check these videos out! Really fascinating!

So that’s my report for now.  As things develop, I’ll be back in touch. Thanks for your interest in the honey bee!

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


As I sit down to write this article the thermometer reads just one degree. Last night’s low was 3 degrees and tonight it’s supposed to be a few degrees below zero. I can’t help thinking of my girls outside in their hives, shivering their wings to maintain a temperature of about ninety degrees within their cluster.

They are amazing little creatures and all of them have already survived temperatures of minus 17 degrees this winter. How do I know they survived? During a break in the winter weather I saw bees flying from most of the hives, while others were visiting the dog’s water dish. What about the hives that had little or no activity? A simple test can give you a good read on what’s going on inside without opening the hive, which you do not want to do in the dead of winter. I put my ear to the side of the hive and listened for a familiar buzz. The three hives that were less active all had a nice buzz to them.

You might think that January is a little early to be thinking about taking up beekeeping, so it may surprise you if I said you might be a year behind. Beekeeping is becoming more popular all the time, but long term success has not been the result and many abandon the hobby after only a few years. So contrary to the many articles you can read that encourage you to jump right in, I hope, not so much to discourage you, but to help you make an educated decision about whether beekeeping is right for you or not. Would you make a good beekeeper?


Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Begin Keeping Bees

Let me ask you some questions first.

1. How much reading have you done? You may be surprised at how much you really don’t understand about bee culture and how the hives function. Do your homework.

2. Have you spent any time with a local beekeeper, inspecting hives and learning from someone with experience, and yes, even getting stung? Find a mentor that is successful with his/her own bees.

3. What is your goal? One or two hives for the joy of having them, for pollination of your garden and sharing in a little raw honey, or maybe just for the simple relaxation of spending time with your girls? Or possibly getting the feel of things and then going whole hog?

4. Have you figured your start up costs? How about the time commitment? Type of equipment? Read.

5. Have you considered the type of hive you want? Langstroth, Top-bar, Warre, Other?

6. Packages or Nucs?

7. Know you’re zoning laws. Are you allowed to keep bees? What about your neighbors? Did I mention read?

8. How much time are you willing to commit to your new hobby?

My point is this: Beekeeping has become a very popular pass time, but paralleling its popularity has been a corresponding rate of failure and hive abandonment. More beekeepers experiencing long term success would be good for our honeybees. Numerous failed hives abandoned in people’s backyards is not a good thing for our honeybees. Some of those hives are dead because they were diseased and when left abandoned, the disease can quickly be spread to other healthy hives when bees that come to rob the honey bring the disease home with them.

As much as I love to see new folks experience the joy associated with keeping bees, our honeybees have enough issues facing them. It would be irresponsible of me to tell you to just go for it without addressing some of the key components you must consider if you want to avoid the majority of new beekeepers who abandon the hobby just a few years down the road.

The Two Most Important Rules of Beekeeping

So let’s begin. Lets first memorize the two most important rules of beekeeping:

Rule No. 1. There are Absolutely No Absolutes when it comes to beekeeping. You will find divergent viewpoints on every single aspect of beekeeping. You must decide for yourself what is right for you and your bees and then diligently pursue your chosen course.(see item number one above)

Rule No. 2: Maintain some perspective. You are going to experience failures along with your success. Failures are not the end of the world unless you throw up your hands and refuse to learn from them. An easy going attitude that brings a calm, relaxed manner to your beekeeping will be appreciated by your bees and your spouse as well. If you simply must worry about something, then worry about something constructive, like a solution to rid us of those malicious parasites that cause more problems and losses than all others……No, not mites. Politicians!

Here in early January it may surprise you to think the queen bees in those hives are also gearing up for spring. You see it won’t be long before the queen begins to lay again. She’s been taking a few weeks of well deserved rest after eleven months of laying eggs. But just as she begins to slow her egg laying after the summer solstice (longest day), she soon begins laying eggs again not long after winters shortest day, (between December twenty first and twenty second) when we experience the shortest day and longest night.

So, like I said, it might be just one degree outside on this first day of January, but if you’re going to keep bees this year you might already be late for the party unless you really get to crackin'!

When starting out you are going to be faced with two decisions that will direct the majority of your actions when purchasing equipment and more specifically, how you intend to manage your bees. If you have been doing the reading you need to do to prepare yourself, you already know about the discussion concerning various types of foundation, small cell or even foundationless. The details of that discussion are outside the scope of this article though we will touch on some aspects of it when discussing equipment. The type of hive and frames you decide to use direct your purchase of equipment. This is where going to the field with a mentor pays big dividends.

The second decision you must make is if you are going to use chemicals in your hives to treat for mites and disease or if you are going to manage for these issues without the use of chemicals. Once again, read, read, read and spend time in the field with a mentor who manages his bees in the same manner you would want to manage your own.

So Let’s Get Started – Where To Site your Bees

If you have checked to make sure local regulations allow you to keep bees (I had to petition city hall and work through the process to get our local regulations changed to allow bees to be kept within city limits), most likely you will have found you need a six foot fence around your hives to raise the bees flight path above head level. Some people also use sheds, stacked firewood and vegetation to accomplish this.

Next you will want to locate your bee hives so they receive the morning sun to warm them. Mid to late day dappled shade can be nice for those blistering hot summer days but is not required. Finally you will need to provide a source of water near the hives if you don’t want your bees visiting the neighbor’s hot tub or child’s wading pool.  (I use a 3 x 5 tub about six inches deep with rocks for them to land on because bees can’t swim)

Basic Beekeeping Equipment

• A smoker, hive tool, bee brush and a pair of boots that will keep the bees out is a good place to start. You may want some other hand tools as well but it’s not necessary to purchase the “kits” put together for beginners as they usually include a fair amount of equipment you don’t need.
• Hive boxes
• Frames and foundation. I suggest avoiding plastic frames. Bees prefer wax foundation or no foundation at all. Most foundation comes imprinted with a pattern that matches the cells the bees will build their comb on. If you go the foundationless route, the bees will build their own comb without following a predetermined pattern.
• A bee suit and gloves. Don’t be intimidated by the numerous video’s you find on the web showing people inspecting a hive with nothing on but a veil, t-shirt and shorts. This is not about being macho. Wear what makes you comfortable so you can calmly spend time with your bees without being nervous.
• You want to practice slow, fluid movements that are least likely to disturb your bees.
• A stand that keeps your hives off the ground. Two 2x6’s spaced and nailed together at a width that accommodates the bottom board of your hive and some cinder blocks to set it upon make a simple and cost effective hive stand.
• A gallon of paint or natural sealant. White is the customary color and it helps to prevent the hives from overheating in the summer.

Most beekeepers order pre-cut frame and hive components that are easily assembled at home with glue and nails. I do not recommend buying used hive components unless it’s from a trusted source. (Remember that mentor I’ve mentioned) You can find used smokers and bee suits but don’t skimp on the hive and frames. Used hives, frames and the comb that comes with them can contain disease.

What does all this cost? You can expect to spend $500 to $600 for two hives and a weekend assembling it all.

How to Order Bees for Beekeeping

One of the main reasons a new beekeeper needs to plan ahead is the need to order bees early. Last summer I ran into two people who were ready and anxious to begin beekeeping. They set up their hives, prepared a water source and then found out they could not get the bees they needed.

Beekeeping is no longer just for the farmer or other rural folk as more and more urbanites have come to enjoy the hobby. Therefore you will want to order your bees early because demand can outstrip supply. If you have already been working with a mentor it is likely they will be a good source for your bees. If you need to purchase your bees from a supplier now is the time to get on board with them and place your order, or at least find out when they will begin taking orders.

You will want to look into suppliers who offer bees bred for “Hygienic behavior.” This is a trait that helps bees to naturally control mites.

Prior to ordering you will need to decide if you want to begin with a Nuc (short for nucleus hive) or a package. Nucs come in a small box, normally with four or five frames, a laying queen, drawn out comb containing eggs and capped brood and plenty of worker bees.

A 3-pound package of bees will contain approximately 12,000 workers and a queen that comes in a small cage you install in the hive. The bees will release the queen in a few short days after she is installed. With a package all you get are the bees. There is no drawn comb containing eggs and larva. Both approaches work well, but I like the package approach for beginners because they get to see the bees build comb and the queen begin laying eggs. Observing this process helps to train the new beekeepers eye to recognize eggs, larva, capped worker brood/drone brood and stores the bees put away.

Beginning with at least two hives will allow the beginner to compare hives and see how one is progressing compared to the other. Or in the case you lose a hive (it happens) you are not without bees.

What will your bees cost? (This is in addition to the cost for hives and equipment) Depending on where you live, Nucs sell for $100 to $125 and packages will go for $85 to $100. Your total layout after purchasing bees now comes to at least $700 to $800.

Time Commitment

A few years back it was all the rage for urbanites to have a few backyard chickens. It seemed simple enough. Keep a few chickens and have your own farm-fresh eggs. Some people did stay with it, but it wasn’t long before things like cleaning the coop, raising replacement birds and all the other things that were not considered, left a lot of empty coops sitting in people’s backyards. Craigslist was full of advertisements for equipment and chicken coops for sale.

The intent of this article is not to discourage you from taking up beekeeping but to spur a little thinking about your own commitment to this hobby. It’s why reading and spending time with a mentor are so highly recommended.

Many of the books out there will tell you not to open and disturb the hive very often, but just how are you supposed to learn if you don’t? For a person brand new to beekeeping I would suggest a hive inspection every week to ten days so you can train your eye and understand what you are looking at. Are you willing to make that kind of time commitment? For some that will be a challenge, yet for others, they won’t be able to wait until they can return to the hive and see what “their girls” have been up to. It is my hope you are part of the latter group.

Honeybee Headlines

Honeybee stories are familiar headlines to most. Colony Collapse Disorder has brought them to our attention and so has the important role bees play in the pollination of much of the food we eat. If you educate and prepare yourself well, you can contribute to a healthy population of honeybees. The bees owned by most hobby beekeepers do not get the same exposure to toxic chemicals like those of commercial beekeepers. There are even reports that loses for involved, proactive, small scale beekeepers are less than those of commercial beekeepers.

This article just scratches the surface. Remember what I said about reading? But a person must also get their hands dirty to avoid paralysis by analysis. It is hoped the information provided here will help you determine if you are ready to make the commitment it takes to become a successful beekeeper.

To further assist you in your beekeeping efforts I will be blogging a season of beekeeping in the Pacific Northwest. So please check back for updates as the season progresses and we will discuss the various issues that come up over the course of the season.

In the mean time, locate a local beekeeper and inquire about their practices. Most beekeepers love to share what they have learned about their craft and will welcome you with open arms. Find a mentor if you have not already done so and tell him/her of your desire to get started with your own hives. If you are going to keep bees this summer, do not wait to get started. Now is the time, even if the temperature is hovering just above zero outside.

Backyard Beekeeping Resources

The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum (One of the best in my opinion)

Beekeeping for Dummies (Other books often overlook some of the very basic questions the newbie has.)

The Beekeepers Handbook

Bee Culture is an excellent magazine you can subscribe to.

Beekeeping Equipment Suppliers

Include but are not limited to:

Mann Lake
Walter T. Kelly Co.
Brushy Mountain Bee Farm
Dadant and Sons
Ruhl Bee Supply
Glory Bee Foods

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


Keeping honeybees is a lot of fun if you don't get stung. So how do you reduce your risk?

Bee Suit

Don't Swat

Honeybees generally only sting when they are threatened. Swinging wildly and slapping at the bees is a threat. This is a hard instinct to overcome but if you concentrate and follow some simple techniques, you will find yourself fascinated with the colony of livestock before you.

Suit Up

Invest in a good protective suit. You will see people go with out gloves or in only a veil, but I don't recommend this especially for beginners. Beginning beekeepers need the confidence that comes with not worrying about stings. My favorite protective gear is a complete unit: overalls with elastic at the ankles and wrists, a zip on veil/hat combination that has additional flaps to cover where the zippers meet, rubber boots that go well up under the pant legs and long gloves with elastic openings that cover my arms over the suit all the way to my elbows. I have not been stung while wearing this gear. It's not built for fashion but it does keep the bees away from my vulnerable skin.

Mask the Alarm Pheromone

Opening the hive is a threatening act, an intruder has come to rob them of all their hard work.

Use smoke any time you open the hives. Spend some time learning to light your smoker and keep it going with a thick, cool smoke. You do not want to shoot flames out the spout of the smoker, but you do want a steady quantity of smoke. Smoke masks the alarm pheromone that the guard bees give off to alert the hive of the intruder.

When you begin to work in the hive, gently blow a few puffs of smoke into the hive entrance and wait a minute or so. Then open the top cover and again, blow a couple of puffs into the center of the inner cover. Then you can take the inner cover off and waft a couple of drafts over the top of the frames.

Work Smart

Lastly, work deliberately and confidently. Plan what you are going to do before you open the hive. If you are going to inspect two brood boxes and look for the queen, have a plan for how to approach this task. Know where you are going to hang the frames you remove for inspection and where you will set the top brood box while you work in the bottom one. Have a helper, also in full protective gear if you need help moving boxes. Keep your hive tool ready in your pocket so you do not have to leave the area searching for equipment. If you are working with a partner, talk through each step out loud so that each know what the other will be doing.

Have Fun

Keeping bees is a wonderful hobby. A little care of your colony will reward you with sweet golden honey, beeswax for crafts, and increased pollination of your crops.

Yes I have been stung but only when I got in a hurry and wasn't careful. I only have a localized allergic reaction, so stings for me are a temporary nuisance. Mostly I feel bad for the worker bee who gives up her life for my carelessness. 

For some ideas on how to treat a sting if it happens, buzz on over to our blog, Mews From The Farm, for a post on reacting to bee stings. Our website, Five Feline Farm, is where you'll find more about this Central Illinois hobby farm I call home.

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


We all love honey and most of you have heard about the health benefits of pollen and propolis too but here are some facts that will help you to appreciate those products and their truly amazing makers even more.

Honeybee Flying

1. Honeybees have five eyes. The two quite visible eyes you see are called complex eyes but what is much harder to see are the three little eyes that they have on the top of their head between their antennae called the ocelli. These three small eyes are used mainly as light sensors to help the bees navigate. Because bees can’t navigate at all without the sun, (if caught out after the sun goes down, they will have to wait until morning to find their way home to the hive) these little eyes are essential to the bees.

2. A single worker bee will produce only 1/10 of a teaspoon of honey in her entire life. Just one packet of honey represents the life’s work of 20 bees.

3. Honeybees fly well over 50,000 miles to produce only one pound of honey. That’s more mileage than it takes to circle the earth two times at the equator.

4. Male bees, called drones — distinguishable by their large size and proportionally larger eyes — have no stingers.

5. Honeybees have to consume eight pounds of honey to produce just one pound of wax.

6. A queen bee can live up to five years and will typically lay about 2,000 eggs a day in the busy season.

7. A queen bee will have only one mating session in her lifetime that will take place in flight, outside of the hive where she will mate with several different drones. During this flight and during swarming are the only times in a queens life that she will fly.

Lindsay Williamson is a certified beekeeper who owns and operates a small apiary called Backyard Honey with her partner Vance Lin. They specialize in completely natural, unfiltered, raw honey and honey products. You can contact her at

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


rabbit breeding

Since we began raising rabbits on our homestead, the phrase "breeding like rabbits" has taken on a whole new meaning to us. I, like so many other rabbit breeders, had one heck of a time trying to breed my first few tries. What on earth am I doing? I wondered. And eventually I became so frustrated that I wanted to give up. The sad fact is that domesticated rabbits don't "breed like rabbits". And if you're stressed out because your rabbits aren't breeding like you think they're "supposed" to, then this might be a breath of fresh air for you.

First of all, let's just get this out of the way — rabbits don't breed every single time you want them to. Yes, you heard that right. Just because you stick a doe (female rabbit) in a hutch with a buck (male rabbit), it does not mean that they will do their thing and then poof, you have kits (babies) in 31 days. Quite the contrary.

While in my honest opinion, I feel that rabbits are the easiest livestock to breed, it is not always an easy task to accomplish. The typical scenario is when a rabbit breeder tries to breed a doe, and either the doe doesn't lift (a term used when she willingly breeds), the buck isn't interested or can't figure it out, or the doe lifts but is never bred.

Here are a few things that might help you along this journey.

The Unwilling Partner

One day the doe isn't willing, the next day the buck runs around like he's forgotten what he's supposed to be doing. It is a never ending process, but there are various true reasons why either partner is unwilling. Your first objective is to make sure your rabbits are ready to mate. Many times we believe that rabbits are always "ready". Here are a few questions to ask yourself and investigate before breeding.

1. Are they old enough?

Depending on age and breed, a rabbit should not be bred any younger than 6 months of age. Small and medium breeds can be bred between 6-8 months. Larger breeds, such as Flemish Giants, should not be bred before 8-10 months of age. However, larger breeds should be bred before 1 year old (does), as they can accumulate too much fat around their ovaries which can cause infertility issues. Breeding them before a year old helps keep excess fat at bay. When your doe is ready to breed, her reproduction area will be bright pinkish-red. The same with a buck. Virgin does can sometimes be shy and unwilling. In this instances, you will need to allow her to spend 5 to 10 minutes in with the buck each day for a few days. After that, she should be comfortable enough with him and understand what is happening. You can also have a shy buck — this can be due to the fact that he's been snapped at before by a doe, or just isn't an aggressive breeder. Try pairing him with older, more willing does, and then work your way down to the younger, less willing does.

You can also have rabbits that are too old to breed. We typically retire our does at 3-4 years of age, and our bucks a little longer unless they begin to tire out quickly. If you are buying an adult rabbit, I would suggest not purchasing one over 18 months of age.

2. Are they stressed?

If your rabbits have been moved to a new hutch, have been stressed by the neighbors dog, or have a nutrition deficiency, these are all things that can cause them to be stressed. Make sure that your hutch locations are thought out extensively, and that you are offering your livestock the best possible option for them. While most rabbits are domesticated, you must keep in mind that they are still very much instinctual. They need an area of their hutch that allows them to feel safe rather than out in the open.

3. Are they healthy?

This is one of the biggest things that you'll need to keep track of and investigate on a regular basis, whether you're breeding or not. A common issue is vitamin and nutrient deficiency. Are your rabbits eating enough and getting enough nutrition? Most people don't realize that a rabbits main source of food should be hay (such as Timothy hay or orchard grass) or pasture, rather than just offering feed pellets. On the other hand, you could also be feeding too much. A tuna fish size can full of food each day per rabbit, and free feed hay is all they need. If a rabbit is underweight or overweight, it will not be willing to breed, nor should it.

Another health issue is vent disease, which can affect both doe and buck. When inspecting your rabbits before breeding, make sure their reproductive area's are not swollen, blistered, and bright red. If they are, you will need to treat your rabbit before breeding, as just with an STD, it can be spread from rabbit to rabbit during breeding times.

Check for ear mites and clip nails if needed -- this ensures that they are feeling their best and can move around efficiently. If they are in the middle of a hard molt (shedding of fur) then they will be less willing to breed as well. Let them rest up for a few weeks, and then try again.

4. Is the weather bad?

Weather can play a large role in breeding. In the Winter months, it can be too cold. The rabbit uses all its resources to keep itself warm, never mind the thought of adding babies to the mix. However, given the proper tools, you can very efficiently breed rabbits in the Winter time. In fact, it's easier to breed in the winter than it is in the dead of Summer, while Spring is the easiest of all. The Summer heat can cause bucks to go temporarily sterile, and the stress from the Summer sun can cause neither party to be willing to breed. In the Summer months, you'll notice that the doe puts less work into tending to kits, and rarely has a lot of fur covering them in her nest. In the Winter months, it takes a lot of preparation and nest building on the doe's part. Never underestimate the time that she spends preparing for her litter.

Make sure that your hutches are winterized when it is cold (wrapping with plastic wrap or surrounding with straw) and in the shade during the summer months. This will help make the weather less probable to interfere with your breedings.

rabbit breeding 2

When All Else Fails

If your rabbits are healthy, happy, and active, then sometimes it seems like nothing will help get them to breed properly. In which case, you can try adding Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) to their water (especially the does) for a week before trying to breed again. Organic ACV is great for any livestock. We offer it to our chickens in their water in the Winter, Spring and Fall -- one tablespoon per gallon. You can give it to your rabbits as well, as it helps their body become more alkaline -- it is also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. So if something else is going on inside of your rabbit that you cannot see, this should help take care of that issue.

Another thing you may consider is bringing the buck to the doe. In most breedings, we take our doe to our buck, otherwise our buck spends too much time sniffing the does cage rather than paying attention to the doe. If the doe becomes hostile, remove the buck immediately. There's no need for anyone to get hurt. Otherwise, if everyone plays nice and the buck doesn't try breeding within the first 30 minutes, you can try separating them -- doe into the bucks cage, buck into the does cage for the evening. Once the doe is comfortable with the bucks scent by morning, bring the buck back to her and she will most likely be more willing to breed.

Whatever you do, don't over do it. If you are not standing there watching for the notorious "fall off" the entire time, then you won't know if your doe is bred or not. If you continuously keep trying to breed her, she can become pregnant with two litters at once, as many rabbits have two uterus'. This would be extremely difficult for her to handle, and will most likely result in losing one or both litters. We always watch for a fall off. If there isn't one, then we re-breed. If there is a fall off, we wait 2 weeks and then palpate the doe. If we do not feel babies, we give it one more week and then palpate again. If there are still no babies, we re-breed.

No matter what the outcome, patience is necessary when first getting started with rabbits. Often times people become frustrated because they have an idea of how it's "supposed" to work, but that assumption just isn't true with domesticated rabbits. After you get the hang of it (which most likely won't be until your third or fourth litter), the successful breedings certainly do outweigh the unsuccessful ones. Whether breeding for pets, show, or meat/pelts - the reward is incredible, and it's nice to know that you're one step closer to being self sufficient.

Amy Fewell is a work-at-home mom, homesteader, blogger and writer. Her and her family live on a mini-homestead in Virginia where they raise Icelandic Chickens, standard Rex rabbits, ducks, and more! For more information about their homestead, visit them online at The Fewell Homestead.

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I expect when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions I am not much different than most people. As I sit down and ponder them I’m conflicted because I’m aware that I won’t keep most or maybe any of them as I’m truly a creature of habit. Therefore if I didn’t keep them in past years I probably won’t keep them this year. My solution is to make a project list instead of a resolutions list. It may seem like semantics or psychological, but I manage to keep a project list when I know I won't keep a list of resolutions!

Our homestead has numerous difficult tasks that must be done for us to survive and be safe. At the top of my “project” list is getting in our firewood for next winter. When we cut, haul, split and stack 9 to 11 cords of firewood I head immediately for my project list and cross it off…project completed for another year. Then I move on to my next project. I have made so many resolutions over the years and failed to follow through with them that I have lost count. Not so with a project list because I need that list to insure all prospective tasks are accomplished in a timely fashion.

On my past resolution list I would have put down to lose weight and that would last until the first sweet temptation came along. My good intentions would totally dissolve and I would justify more sweets with a litany of excuses to myself. As most people who have chosen to live on a remote homestead are aware of the physical effort is endless. That substitutes for going to a gym to work out or jogging to stay fit. A resolution excuse for me would therefore be “since I’m saving money by not having a gym membership I’ll buy ice cream and snacks.” My project list would instead read "avoid sweets and snacks.” Staying fit is not even an issue if I continue to make headway on a project list; instead it is a given due to the strenuous daily activity. I look at that project list often as a constant reminder to keep my focus on progressing and not missing or overlooking needed jobs. For some reason I manage to keep the project list but not when it’s a resolution! Perhaps because I can cross specific tasks off the list because I review that project list frequently and the resolution list is rarely reviewed. To me my project list is a check off list and my resolution list is a “suggestion” list as I perceive it.

mt meadow .jpg 

Then there is the item on the project list to “clean the wood stove and chimney." This is a dreaded project due to the height of the chimney and it is the dirtiest of all the projects I do. Putting it on a resolution list would probably be reason for me to not do the job. As a resolution I could rationalize doing it next year. When it is on the project list I take it in order and like it or not it gets done. Having a project list for me is a serious proposition. The resolution list would probably have another item like “be a better person.” I’m not sure why I ever put that down anyway because I try to be a good person so where is the challenge and what is the end goal? By whose standard do I measure anyway? If I look around I can always find a less than nice person so as long as I consider myself better than that person is that really a success? That standard just may take me in the wrong direction. That used to be a subjective item on my resolution list and did not require any effort. Instead I’ll just clean the chimney because I can then cross that task off the project list.

Each new year is also a new beginning and I have read all the suggestions on how to make a proper resolution list by being specific and containing achievable goals. Also to review it often but I never seemed to be able to do that hence my resolutions wouldn't last but a couple of weeks. A good entry on my resolution list would be to have all the projects crossed off my project list by year end. But I already know that is needed so I don't bother with a resolution list anyway. While many choose to make a resolution list I therefore prefer a project list of specific achievable projects that are clearly needed and truly demanding and offer some challenges.

A resolution list is supposed to make you happy and a better and healthier person. My project list easily accomplishes that for me. There is nothing more healthy than running a ‘back to basics’ homestead where I am tired at the end of the day because I have made visible and tangible accomplishments. I am healthy because of the physical demands and happy because I am healthy and can meet the rigorous demands of remote living. It is a satisfaction that can be measured on a daily basis and enjoyed fully. Come to think about it I never remember being happy over a resolutions list; only disappointed. Having completed a projects list does have a sense of completion and satisfaction and only when there are incomplete projects is there any disappointment.

If I were to make a resolution list (which I do not plan to do) it would include learning to type faster with two fingers since I recently crushed my finger tip that is needed to type the e, w, c, d keys. Doing this and other blogs is a real challenge without the use of that finger. I used to work with a man that could type faster with two fingers than I could using all of mine. My resolution would be to achieve his level of success.

My wish for readers is that the new year will bring you good health and much happiness by several successfully completed projects.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their homestead experiences go to their blog, McElmurray's Mountain Retreat.

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


Even after you have been beekeeping for quite a few years, it is a good idea to set goals, or look for ways to improve your beekeeping. Here are my “Beekeeping Resolutions” for the New Year. These include some goals for myself that might be important to other beekeepers as well!

winter hives

1. Keep Good Records

When I first started beekeeping, I only had two hives, and I thought I could pretty much remember what was going on in each hive. Once I got up to four hives, I had to start writing things down. I also realized that it was getting harder to keep track of what happened over the years. Now that I have 16 hives, good record keeping has taken on a new importance. First of all, information about the queens is vital. By keeping good records, I know at a glance how old the queen is, where she came from, how prolific she has been, etc. This information can help me determine if and when she may need to be replaced, and where I want to obtain queens from in the future. Secondly, I record information about the health of the hive. I keep track of Varrora levels, other signs of disease or pests, what treatments are used, and how well they worked. I also keep track of the general temperament and robustness of the hive. How quickly they built up in the spring, the population size of the colony, and the gentleness or aggressiveness of the hives are all things I take note of. Again, this can give clues as to the health of the hive, and any issues that should be addressed. We also keep track of how much honey was produced by each hive. All of this information helps me remember what happened in each hive, and helps me make better decisions in the future.

There are many ways to keep records. A simple composition notebook works for some people, and there is an online program called “Hive Tracks” that may appeal to those looking to go more high tech. After some experimenting, I have found that what works best for me is to take a spiral notebook with me each time I visit the beeyard. Using shorthand that probably only I can understand, I quickly make note of any information I want to make sure I remember. Once I am back inside with a glass of ice tea or lemonade, I write out my notes in a 3 ring binder. I have dividers in it, one for each hive. I can add dividers as I add more hives, and add as many sheets of paper as I need. If I lose a hive, I staple the sheets together, and move it to a section for deceased hives. Again, the method itself isn’t as important as a commitment to keep those accurate records for future use!

2. “Bee” Prepared

Nothing is more frustrating than getting to the beeyard and realizing that you don’t have the equipment you need on hand. Some examples; realizing that a hive is ready for another super, only to discover that you do not have enough frames for the super, wanting to remove supers from several hives, and not having enough escape boards, or getting a call about a swarm, and not having extra hive components to house them in. One of my resolutions is to keep an accurate inventory of equipment, and to replace or restock it before I really need it!

3. Keep Learning

No matter how long you have been beekeeping, there is always more to learn. New research, new information, and new challenges are always appearing. My third resolution is to never stop learning. There are so many ways to keep your knowledge current. Attending Bee club meetings, seminars, and workshops are a great way to learn, and you also have a chance talk to other beekeepers. Keeping current with beekeeping magazines and literature can be done from the comfort of your home, as well as checking out online websites, blogs, and chatrooms or forums. Whatever appeals to you, try to stay up to date with what is going on in the world of beekeeping.

4. “Bee” Proactive

This is a hard one for me. If I have a hive that is not doing well, I tend to want to give it more time, give it another chance, or wait a little longer — long past when I should cut my losses. Combining a weak hive with a stronger one, replacing a queen who is not performing, and other tough calls will not get any easier with time, and the hive usually declines even more instead of improving. My fourth resolution is to be more proactive in taking action when it is needed.

5. Pay it Forward

Many beekeepers have given me advice and helped me out as I have learned about beekeeping. My final beekeeping resolution is to “Pay it Forward”. There are many ways that beekeepers can help each other and the public. Many clubs have mentoring programs where experienced beekeepers can help out a beekeeper who is just getting started. Maybe you just know someone who would like to learn more about beekeeping or needs help setting up a hive. Are there groups or schools in your area who would like to have a beekeeper come speak with them? Is your bee club in need of volunteers to help with projects? There are many ways to get involved, help others, and spread the word about bees and beekeeping.

Whatever your beekeeping goals and resolutions, we at Bees of the Woods Apiary hope that you and your bees have a happy, productive and healthy New Year!

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

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

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