Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Heart Nest with Hands

Spring is one of my favorite seasons. The flowers are blooming, birds are singing lullabies to their nestlings, and the consistent rainfall leaves everything feeling new, fresh, and clean.

As an amateur birder, my favorite part of spring is the return of the robins, red winged blackbirds, and sparrows, as well as the more elusive kingfishers, egrets, and other waterfowl that comes to visit our lake home to nest.

Just the other day, my son came running home with a robin egg that he had found in a neighbor's backyard. It seems like everyone stumbles across some found eggs at some point in time, and leaving them where they are feels like a death sentence.

So what do you do- what can you do?

Removing a Wild Bird Egg is Illegal

Sorry, Folks. If you heard it here first, then I hate to be the harbinger of bad news.  

In the US, according to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, it is illegal to "pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird." (16 U.S.C. 703)

Long story short, it is illegal to remove a nest or egg from a migratory species, punishable by a fine (up to $15,000), jail time (up to 6 months), or a combination of the two. Fortunately, this law is really in place to help protect migratory species from being mass harvested and exported to other countries, impacting our migratory bird population. It was enacted to combat a growing problem at the turn of the century, and has been effective in reducing that risk.

So while this does impact your ability to hatch a wild egg, the reason that you aren't supposed to collect those abandoned eggs is actually intended to protect and preserve our wild bird population.

So What Can I Do?

While obeying the law should be your main priority, there are things that you can do to help ensure that the egg or nest that you have found is given the best chance at survival.

I Found An Entire Bird Nest That Looks Abandoned

Kill Deer Ground Nest

Sometimes, you will find what appears to be an entire abandoned nest. Disturbing an entire nest is often a bad idea for a number of reasons:

The Nest may not be abandoned. Some birds actually nest on the ground, and lay their eggs there, such as the Killdeer pictured above. They have done this intentionally, and disrupting their nest can make the parent abandon their nest completely.

Many birds will lay only one egg a day, and will continue to lay eggs until they have a full clutch. This means that while the nest may appear unattended, it may simply be that the mother is not yet ready to start incubating her eggs. They will often stay away from the nest until they are ready to sit, because they don't want to give away their nest location to potential predators.

Now, if you find what you are able to clearly identify as a tree nesting bird nest, such as a robins nest, lying on the ground under a tree, then the best course of action would be to replace the nest in the tree. The nest may have simply been knocked out of the tree due to high winds or other weather.

Fortunately, if a mother loses a nest or a clutch, they will most likely try again in a more secure location.

I Found A Bird Egg Not In A Nest

If you have found an abandoned egg, there is most likely a reason it has been abandoned. Chances are, the mother chose to reject the egg because it was infertile or unlikely to hatch, or it could have been dropped by a predator that originally stole it from it's nest. 

Either way, there is a very slim chance that the egg is viable, and it most likely will not hatch, regardless of the steps you take.

However, there are some things you can do to help give the egg a better chance at survival:

Look for a nearby nest. Just as the apple doesn't fall from the tree, the egg typically doesn't fall far from the nest. If you can find a nest that has the same type eggs, and are pretty confident that it came from that nest, then go ahead and put it back there. Don't go looking for a nest if you can't find one in the immediate location, as you don't want to risk overcrowding another bird's nest, or abandonment of that nest by the mother.

Reach out to a local wildlife rehabilitator who is licensed to care for injured and orphaned wild animals. Do not collect the egg to take to them, but be prepared to show them where the egg is located. Note that they many only be interested in the egg if it is of an endangered species.

But I Really Want To Hatch The Egg Myself!

lady sitting on nest

If you are a hardcore, law-breaking rebel who simply can't resist the urge to incubate the wild bird egg, then this is best done in a standard egg incubator with an egg turner.

Wild birds are tricky to incubate, especially if you are not quite sure what breed it is, as different birds require different incubation periods. For example, pigeons incubate for a period of 17 days, while finches and doves are a period of 14 days.

If you choose to hatch the wild bird egg yourself, then do your best to identify the type of bird egg before you begin, and do your research! You will need to fully understand what incubation parameters, such as duration, turning intervals, humidity, and temperature, you will need for hatching, and how to care for the bird after hatch.

Most bird eggs require 100 degrees F temperature for incubation, and humidity of about 50% during incubation, 60% during the last three days for hatching. This may differ slightly for different egg types, so familiarizing yourself with the bird that you are attempting to hatch is crucial in any situation!

What Do I Do With The Bird Once It Hatches?

If you have thrown caution to the wind, and successfully hatched the egg, then congratulations! You are now officially a Mama Bird. And let me tell you, a Mama bird's job ain't easy. Now that it has hatched, you have to actually keep it alive, which is a whole 'nother thing altogether.

Baby birds can have a varied diet based on their breed, usually worms or a variety of insects, but that doesn't change the fact that they will need to be fed about every 5-15 minutes during all daylight hours for the first 2 weeks of life.

So while you are a Mama Bird, that is pretty much the only thing you will have time to be.  

So What Are You Trying to Say?

Basically, if you find a wild bird egg, leave it alone. Egg abandonment is extremely common, and the Mama bird is the best judge of which eggs will have the best chances of survival. Trust her judgement. The mother has moved on, and so should you.

Not only is it illegal to collect the egg, it is difficult to incubate, almost impossible to care for after hatching, and the chances of survival are extremely slim. 

If you feel that something needs to be done, contact a professional. They can make the decision if the egg is viable, and worth collecting and incubating.

However, if you have a great desire to incubate and raise birds, then there are lots of domestic bird breeds that will not only be easier to hatch, keep, and care for, but can provide you with a source of fresh eggs, meat, and endless hours of entertainment.

If you really want to make an impact or difference on a bird species, choose a heritage chicken or heritage duck breed to start your flock.

Whatever you decide, good luck and happy hatching!

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

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


Lake Ice May 4th

They're back. The wolves. During breakfast one morning this past week, we heard a chorus of howling. Racing down to the shoreline, we saw 3 wolves in the center of the lake about a mile away.

Through the years we've seen wolf tracks on numerous occasions and have even seen the occasional lone wolf, but last fall, we became aware of their presence when a pack of seven emerged from the shelter of the woods into our clearing to the north of the house.

They seemed just as curious about us as we were of them. They hung around all through the evening and at one point assembled below the hill behind the house and serenaded us with howling, yipping and barking. We didn't see them all winter but their return this week told us at least 3 survived.

We've gone from abnormally cold to the opposite extreme. Well above average temperatures. The lake ice is decreasing about 1 ½ to 2 inches in thickness per day. Roughly 15 inches of ice to melt yet. All the snow is gone and we are busy at work with outdoor chores and gardening.

Living 100 miles in the bush certainly has many challenges, not the least of which is communications. A reader voiced questions related to this topic. How do we communicate with the outside world when we live so remote? We are well beyond cell phone range and using tin cans and string is not an option.

Satellite Internet and TV

Remote Communications

When we started building our homestead in the wilderness in 1999, our communications was ultra basic. At that time, a system was in place that allowed a person out in the bush to communicate with others via a portable transceiver.

This radio was battery powered and the long-wire antenna was strung as high as possible between two trees. Depending on weather and atmospheric conditions, it was rather dicey whether a conversation could take place. Instead of voice, one might hear nothing but static or useless mix of static and garbled voice.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness.

Communication in those early days at Hockley was unique—at least unique to us. Many hunters and trappers worked in the bush on their trap lines and lived in cabins they built. Their communication system included a battery-operated transceiver. Voice could be transmitted as well as received. The antenna consisted of a long wire that they hung as high as they could get it, between trees. In the town of La Ronge, an operator was stationed 24/7 near a high-powered radio. Someone would call in from the bush and would want to place a call. The operator would dial the call to a landline and then acted as intermediary between the caller in the bush and the person receiving the call on the landline. The operator listened in and, depending on who was talking, either broadcast or received the voice.

It was like the days of walkie-talkies. "Blah blah blah over," with "over" being the key word.

Acting as the go-between, the operator directed the voice traffic back and forth between the two parties using a simple foot pedal switch. Depending on the switch position, voice would be transmitted to the receiving party or their voice was sent to the caller. This banter went back and forth until both parties had said all they wanted to say, and the communication ended with over and out, thus enabling the operator to know the conversation was completed. Anyone tuned to the frequency being used could listen to the ongoing conversation. There was no such thing as a private chat--quite reminiscent of party lines from long ago.

Because of our terrain and distance from the base station, the bush radio was unreliable. Voice transmissions were garbled and static was an issue. But in an emergency, someone was likely to hear our transmission and relay a message for help.

A Reliable Satellite Phone

Once the house was built and we were settled in, we needed a more reliable means of communications. We opted for a satellite phone. Our first satellite phone was literally a brief-cased sized gizmo that I would take outside, raise the lid which was the antenna, and place a call. Not a real convenient thing to do at 30 below.

Roughly in 2003, we progressed to an Iridium hand-held SAT phone which was portable as well as practical since it could be used indoors as well as outdoors. Portable because it has a small attached wand antenna, and practical because I mounted another antenna on the roof so it can be used indoors.

It is ultra-reliable but had a high initial cost. If memory serves me right, it was about $1,300 to purchase and at charges of over $1.00/minute to use, it's best not to be chatty. We still have this phone as emergency backup. It gives us peace of mind knowing we can count on it in the worst of times.

About that same year we bought our first computer. The computer opened the world to us. Now we could consider other communication alternatives. We could use technology to our advantage and use another means of communications. Satellite Internet.

Much the same way people have a cable running to their house and a modem that connects to their computer, we have a satellite dish and modem. We receive and transmit signals up to a satellite and then back to earth. This system allows us to tap into the Internet, do all our financials and taxes online, email and make VOIP (voice over Internet) phone calls.

SAT phone and Internet phone

As the years have rolled on, our satellite Internet service has improved with newer, more modern equipment. The system has its limitations, but it does everything we need it to do.

What an awesome feeling it is to live so far from society and yet be able to dial a phone and chat with anybody in the world, log in to my bank account and pay a bill, write an email to send off and even compose this blog post complete with pictures and ship it to Mother Earth News. Thanks for reading and I'll be back again shortly.

Ron Melchiore and his, wife Johanna, currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of: Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness by Ron Melchiore published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Ron can be contacted at and on Facebook and Pinterest. Read all of Ron's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


Here in the Appalachian Mountains the risk of frost wanes, and the heat of midday begins to creep into the mornings and evenings. The cool nights of spring are slowly being replaced with heat, with rolling sheets of thunder, with lightning that ripples across the sky.

As the days stretch closer to their full summer length, we are welcomed to sow directly into the warming ground. We are invited to harvest from the woods, which are coming to life with new abundance. Now, we step into the light of the growing season, and we plant beneath the poplar moon!

On the homestead, in the forest, in the orchard, there is much to do in the month of May. Here is a guide to help you sow your garden beds, to help you harvest, and to help you connect with the power of this unfolding season. Keep in mind that these activities were created based on the Southern Appalachian bioregion.

This guide was created by the life experiences of Natalie Bogwalker, the founder of Wild Abundance and the Firefly Gathering, who is dedicated to teaching people how to connect and work with the land. This guide also includes contributions from permaculture teachers and plant enthusiasts Chloe Lieberman and Zev Friedman.

Natalie & nettles

Annual Garden Preparations

• Make “tea” out of woods nettles and/or stinging nettles to apply to crops as a fertilizer/mineral supplement
• Plant squash, gourds and cucumbers in 4 or 6” pots very early in the month, then plant out in garden later in month.
• Plant New Zealand spinach, green beans (first sowing, thereafter you can plant them every 2-4 weeks until mid July for a prolonged harvest)
• Transplant out tomatoes, basil, peppers into garden
• Sow field corn (stagger sowings based on length of season needed and to avoid different varieties cross breeding)
• Select good-looking, medium sized sweet potatoes from last year to “slip out,” or secure a source for sweet potato slips
• Sow sunflowers (for beauty and/or seeds), repeat every 2-4 weeks until mid-July for continuous flowering
• Plant dill (repeat every 2-4 weeks for continued harvest and to make sure you have dill when it’s time to pickle cucumbers and beans)

Wild and Woodland Harvest

• Harvest flower clusters from black locust trees, enjoy in salads, as iced tea, and in liquors
• Harvest a small hickory tree or two for inner bark for chair bottoms, basket rims, and lashing if need be
• Gather and dry basswood leaves
• Harvest basswood coppice for friction fire wood, bark, and leaves
• Coppice Tulip Poplar trees of appropriate size to harvest poplar bark for building and baskets, and wood for carving and kindling
• Cut sochan flower stalks to maintain harvest of greens
• Harvest lamb’s quarters greens and steam/boil/sautée

Wild food from the forest! 

• Eat purslane raw or cooked in salads or pestos
• Pluck daylily buds to eat raw, and steam or sautée, or throw in kim-chees
• Keep your eyes out for chicken of the woods and other delectable mushrooms
• Harvest massive amounts of nettle (flowering or not), and dry for a feed supplement for livestock in the winter  

In The Orchard

• Notice and treat any early signs of diseases
• Mow/cut grass/weeds in orchard and lay clippings at bases of trees periodically throughout the growing season

Food Preservation

• Dry wood nettle leaves
• Pickle and/or dry basswood leaves
• Make wild kim chee of basswood leaves, hemlock tree tips, daylily buds, oxeye daisies, and asian cabbage
• Continue making/freezing wild pestos

Other Poplar Moon Happenings

• Go to the forest frequently to observe dramatic changes
• Go through stores of preserved foods from last year and finish eating anything that is coming on again soon
• Birth and beginning of milking for many dairy animals

Don’t forget to celebrate, for poplar is a symbol of nourishment and sweetness. The nectar is rich, feeding our honeybees, representing the sweetness that blossoms before us as we step into the season of sun and heat.

Tulip Polar Flower

Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt is a writer and a student of the earth. Learn more about working with the cycle of the season at Wild Abundance, where classes are offered in permaculture, gardening, carpentry and natural building. Read all of Aiyanna's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


Our home with spring snow.

When we built our current home in 1992, there were very few rules and codes that could damage or destroy our dream of doing most of the work in building our cabin ourselves. There were only two codes that we had to comply with, and they were the electrical code and septic tank permit.

The electrical code required an open wall inspection, closed wall inspection and final inspection and the septic tank installation had to be approved by the county health officer.

Today things have changed. Being able to build without numerous permits seems to be a thing of the past. We look back fondly at not having to endure lots of paperwork to build our home. Times like that are rapidly disappearing and those who build now must endure permits, inspections, delays and forced compliance. The dream of building your own home could be more complicated than just knowing construction techniques nowadays.

Then and Now

I recently had the opportunity to talk to a person who also has a dream of being their own contractor like we had done so many years ago. This person now must comply with codes and endless permits and the result is they are weighed down with bureaucratic paperwork which takes some of the enjoyment out of the experience of being your own contractor.

In our case, we had the shell home built by a local contractor because we lived back east in Pennsylvania and couldn’t get enough time off work to do that aspect ourselves. Back then, we were not burdened by expensive permits, bludgeoning codes and multiple compliance inspections.

We did our own electrical run and then had it checked by a licensed electrician. We also did our own plumbing along with the interior work. Having the electrical and plumbing checked by professionals was worth the extra cost and insured we had safe and functional systems installed. When we had our domestic well drilled, the drilling company took care of the permitting process as the permit had questions we were not capable of answering.

Repeated inspections slows down construction progress considerably because you must wait for step by step approval to proceed.

Curiosity recently compelled me to go on line and check out the current codes in our area. I was surprised with the detailed codes currently in effect. When the county first decided to adopt land use codes in 1997, they were construction friendly, but over several land use administrators and 19 years, they have been constantly revised and have become more restrictive. With all the permits and government control, it now has the tendency to take the edge off a dream for someone who wants to do the work themselves.

The Minefield of Codes and Permits

As the codes become more specific, they seem to take on a life of their own and those who are charged with administration would seem subservient to the codes. Their ability to favorably deal with those wanting to build themselves is stifled by the morass of rules they must follow.

For example, should you want to camp on your property during construction, you are restricted to 60 days and no more than 6 months per year. Your camper has to be inspected/approved by the county prior to placement. You also need a water source which can either be a well or cistern —  the latter has to be buried to a depth where it will not freeze. The frost line in our area is around 4 feet, so it may have to be buried pretty deep.

You would also need a septic tank with a minimum capacity of 1,250 gallons or larger. Any residence must be 600 square feet or more, which rules out a tiny home. Composting or incinerating toilets are not permitted unless the parcel can’t support a septic tank. Permits are  good for 1 year, so building in an area with a long winter means you must work fast or pay for more permits to extend for another year.

Bureaucratic Overburden

Plumbing, septic and electrical  inspections have to be scheduled which all take time depending on the inspector's workload and availability and it slows construction down. Having land use codes are a good thing, but with each change of administrator, there seems to be a need to rewrite and "improve" upon the existing codes, which leads to more bureaucratic overburden.

When the codes become so specific and complicated, they no longer serve the people but instead promote procedural correctness it would seem to me they are no longer serving the landowner but instead the government entity. Overly restrictive codes would seem to me to stifle new construction instead of allowing for growth. It also seems easy to get carried away when developing codes to the point where they become too burdensome.

Codes Are Necessary but Should be Reasonable

There needs to be codes in place but reasonable codes which do not create a bureaucratic dilemma for those wanting to build. Codes are essential to maintain safe and reasonable land use from parcel to parcel, but when carried to the extreme, can inhibit new construction.

In the final analysis, even though land may be relatively affordable it would avail any person who wants to be their own contractor to determine the full code implication before undertaking construction.

As I now look back to when we built our cabin, I am so relieved we were not inundated by so many current requirements and restrictions. To not have codes or rules leaves the land and community residents without protection when abuse occurs and could adversely impact property values. So, while we need codes, we need codes without undue restrictions where the county can still regulate construction, but at the same time, promote building and not hamper it.

The lesson of this topic is that anyone preparing to build would be wise to check land use codes before even buying the land or start dreaming of building your own home. If you have no problem jumping through hoop after hoop, it probably won’t affect you.

If you are leaning toward a tiny home or small home, it may not be allowed or you may have to have to install a septic system that would be more suited to a commercial building than a small or tiny home. It may just be better to find a location that is more builder friendly than get bogged down in endless codes and rules.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their cabin lifestyle go to: Read all of Bruce's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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


Vermont Farmer With His Cows 

For the uninitiated, slaughtering animals is a repulsive thought. When we first raised and slaughtered our own animals, we feared that our 5-year-old daughter would be traumatized. After the chickens’ heads were removed, she giggled.

This reminded me of how routine such a practice was to my Vermont grandmothers, both of whom were raised on farms. Our forebears thought nothing of it — and neither would people today if we were not so alienated from our own food production.

But this is not to say that we should be unfeeling about our animals. Humane treatment is a moral imperative, and also ensures meat quality: stressing animals at slaughter time compromises the meat in numerous ways — even making it inedible. (See “Effects of stress and injury on meat and by-product quality,” FAO).

When deciding whether to raise your own animals for food, there is something else that is dramatically different from our grandmothers’ times: the law.

Legal Considerations for On-Farm Slaughter

In our heavily regulated society, numerous laws now restrict whether one can even keep chickens, how close they can be to a property boundary, or how many we can own. The legal limits for livestock can be even more restrictive than for poultry. State laws and local zoning ordinances should be closely examined.

But, in addition to these hurdles, anyone who wishes to provide fresh, affordable meat for their table from well-treated animals must assess how they will translate those creatures from pasture to freezer in view of the myriad slaughter and processing laws which may bar the way.

I will here summarize the various possibilities for animal slaughter and processing, but each state is different — and those disparities can be huge. It is important for home producers to educate themselves about what the laws are in their state for slaughter at the outset, because in some states, slaughter must be booked months in advance with the appropriate facility. Also, it may require a very long drive with stressed-out animals to the nearest available location.

For on-farm slaughter, finding and reserving an itinerant slaughterer may be the best bet, but this should be lined up before Bossy the steer is loping around your pasture — the hassles of processing him may exceed the trauma of putting him down.

Transporting Animals vs. On-Farm Slaughter

There are two stages of translating an animal from field to freezer: slaughter and processing. Slaughter entails the animal’s execution, dressing out, and division into halves or quarters (if applicable).

Processing describes the separation of the carcass into cuts, burger, stew meat, etc. If your state permits on-farm slaughter, this may be the least expensive option, and is the most humane for the animal.

It is important that stress is avoided for the animal whose life is about to be sacrificed. The on-farm option means you are involved in that unpleasant task, but perhaps, like hunting, that is important as a matter of respect and appreciation. The animal can be killed so that it doesn’t know what’s coming, and the stress of trucking is eliminated.

If the animal is slaughtered on-farm, it generally is then transported to a custom processor for butchering at the customer’s instruction, though some jurisdictions, including New York, permit the processing on-farm of an animal as well as slaughtering, even where it is sold to new owners.

If you are selling the animal, or a part thereof, to others, then particular attention must be paid to applicable laws.

Alternatively, the animal may be shipped alive to a facility (usually federally-inspected) which performs both the slaughter and the processing. In addition to avoiding the unpleasant task of killing, this option offers other benefits: no need to dispose of the offal, individual cuts of meat can be sold, and the carcass is not exposed to high temperatures or to debris, insects, etc.

Opinions vary as to how long the meat should hang prior to processing: We usually hang our beef for 14 days. Hanging the carcass tenderizes the meat, and contributes to flavor.

Farmer Hugging Cows In Vermont 

Other Considerations

Slaughter should be performed early in the morning if done on-farm, and the carcass chilled as quickly as practicable: It must not be transported a long distance under a hot sun. If you are selling half of a pig or beef animal to a customer, many states restrict the use of on-farm slaughter to wholes and the only choice is thus a slaughterhouse.

Again, these options should be considered even before one purchases the animal, as conditions and laws vary greatly: This aspect of animal husbandry can be more complicated than the rearing. This is especially true for poultry, where the costs of processing (which is almost always done concurrently with slaughter) can constitute the lion’s share of expense.

If performing slaughter on-farm, many states restrict the practice to an experienced slaughterer, and even if they do not, you may wish to hire a professional. Hoisting a pig or steer into the air requires equipment, the animal must be shot in the right place so it doesn’t run down the road injured, traumatizing both animal and onlooker, specialized saws and a knowledgeable hand wielding the blade make for a clean carcass to deliver to the custom processor.

The halves or quarters should be snugly wrapped in plastic for transport to prevent exposure to flies or debris. Finally, you may wish to consult with tradition when scheduling your slaughterer.

Understanding options for bringing an animal to the table is an important responsibility, and must be explained to any purchasers.

Raising Livestock on Small Scale Maintains Ethics

Many people sell a part of an animal to defray feed costs, or sell some chickens to cover the costs of chicks and feed. This is a form of on-farm income that makes raising one’s own meats affordable.

And raising one’s own livestock or poultry is the only certain manner to know what the animal was fed, that it was always provided with fresh water and clean bedding, and that it died with as little awareness or suffering as humanly possible.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” (Mohandas K. Gahdhi)

John Klar raises grass-fed beef and sheep, and seeks to educate people about where their food comes from and how large corporate interests wish to dominate food production. He moved to Vermont and began farming in 1998. John and his wife, Jacqueline, built and operate an artisanal raw-milk cheese house, and have raised pigs, chickens, sheep, horses, cows, and goats, and grown many varieties of vegetables and herbs. You can connect with John on Facebook.

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


Read the full year's posts in this series here.

I always think of April 1st as being the first day of the new beekeeping season. This is the date when we make the call on how many hives made it through winter.

This year we only lost one hive, which gave us a 94% success rate – our best year ever!  I give us some credit for this – we closely monitored mite populations and made sure our bees had plenty of honey and supplemental feed for winter.

April Snow Storm

However, it was also a very mild winter, so Mother Nature deserves some of the credit as well. Many beekeepers I have talked to in this area are reporting very successful overwintering.

Mother Nature still had some tricks up her sleeve, however. On April 4th, we had more snow than we’ve had all season – about 6 inches overnight. It also got very cold – teens and twenties at night! I was a little concerned about the hives, as I had removed the insulation and tar paper during a warm spell.  I checked them a few days later, and they seem to have gotten through the cold step just fine.

Cleaning Beehives and Your Beeyard for Spring

Our first task every spring is to do some spring cleaning in our hives. After smoking the hive and removing the outer and inner cover, we take a peek in the top super. We look for the queen, eggs or brood, honey and pollen, and to get a rough idea of how many bees are in the super.

We then carefully set the super aside. Placing it diagonally on the upside down outer cover minimizes the points of contact, so there is less chance of squishing bees. We repeat this for every super and brood box in the hive. When we get to the screened bottom board, we shake it away from the bee yard to remove debris – bits of wax, dead bees, etc., and sweep all of the debris off of our cinderblock hive stand.

Then, it’s time to put it all back together, but not in the same order! The wooden hive stand goes on our cinder blocks first, followed by the screened bottom board. Then, the box that seemed to be the most full of brood and bees goes on the bottom. If there is another box that contained brood, that would go on next.

On the top, we put a super that has some honey, nectar, and pollen, but also empty frames to give the bees room to store nectar and raise brood. Any supers that are mostly empty can be removed – we just brush the bees off of each frame, and place them in an empty super to be stored until needed.

Once the inner and outer covers have been replaced, we are ready to move on to the next hive. This gets the bees "restarted" in the bottom of the hive, so they can work upwards. Eventually honey supers will be added to the hives.

It took us about 4 hours to do all 15 hives, so about 15 minutes per hive. Again, this is just a quick check to reverse and clean up the hives, and make sure they all have laying queens and enough food. We also make notes on which hives will need attention in the near future. For example, Hive 6 seemed much grouchier and aggressive than the other hives, so we will need to check and see if they need to be requeened. Hive 12 had plenty of bees, but the brood pattern seemed spotty, so again, we will check them again in a few weeks to see if they need a new queen.

We also tagged 3 hives that seemed quite crowded. These will be good candidates for comb honey supers, and to possible pull brood from to graft queens. Both of the nucs we overwintered did great, and will need to be moved into full hives soon.

Moving a Swarm to a New Hive

One week later, the third week of April, we returned to do some work in the bee yard.  We added a cut comb honey super, and two Ross Round honey supers to the three crowded hives. With dandelions beginning to bloom, and a large population of bees, they should be able to fill these out quickly. 

Very Crowded Nuc 

One of our nucs also got very crowded – the bees were bearding all over the outside of the hive (see picture above). We decided to move them into a full hive before we went away on vacation, as we were concerned about swarming. We set up a full hive stand where we had lost a hive this winter. We pulled one frame at a time from the crowded nuc, looked for the queen and any possible swarm cells, and then moved it to the new hive.

We did find one intact swarm cell on a frame, and set it aside in a separate nuc box. Once we located the queen and moved her to the new hive, we added frames to the new nuc box to equal 2 frames of brood, two frames of honey and pollen, and one drawn, but empty frame. We moved the rest of the frames to the new hive, and placed the nuc with the swarm cell where the original nuc was.

So, what we essentially did, was create an artificial “swarm” by moving the queen and most of the bees to a new location. Hopefully, the queen in the swarm cell will hatch and mate successfully, giving us a new nuc in the location of the original nuc. We’ll go back and check them in a week or so to see how they are doing.

Happy Beekeeping!

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

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


Although temperatures have been unfavorable for the outdoor garden, we have the makings for our first salads well underway. Being north of 56 degrees latitude and with the potential for frost any month of the year, we've had to adapt and take extra measures if we are to provide for our vegetable needs.

An example of this is how we are able to pick our first greens before the snow is off the ground. Preparations actually begin in late fall when cold frames are placed in the greenhouse after the last of summer's plants are removed, creating sort of a greenhouse within a greenhouse.Cold Frame in Greenhouse

Our cold frames are simple 4 sided plywood boxes with hinged windows on top which can be opened and closed as needed. The following is a short book excerpt from Off Grid and Free:My Path to the Wilderness.

We have a south-facing greenhouse that becomes home to melons, tomatoes, and peppers in late spring. But before they are planted, with snow still on the ground, we sow the seeds of salad fixings to satisfy our hankering for fresh greens after a long winter’s dearth of lettuce and radishes.

Cold frames, which we set in the greenhouse, act as a sort of greenhouse within a greenhouse. A cold frame is a box with clear lid (glass or plastic), a setup that gives protection to early plantings of lettuce, kale, onions, and radishes, even when temperatures are still going down to 0°F at night.

The sun has considerable heat by this time of the year due to its higher angle in the sky so, even on cold days, the greenhouse warms up substantially. It may even need to be vented on a sunny afternoon to prevent it from getting too hot. To protect the young seedlings from the cold night, we place recycled gallon milk jugs filled with hot water in the cold frames. We ensure that the cold frame lid is closed, and then lay a heavy blanket over the box. This procedure keeps things in the box from freezing. Because of these efforts, we will enjoy our first salads while snow is still on the ground.

Attached Greenhouse

Our greenhouse is a simple three sided affair with the south wall of the house acting as the fourth side. The west end is insulated and has two vents which can be opened when air circulation and temperature control are needed. The east end is covered with plastic and has an entrance door. The south side has a short knee wall to which the bottom end of the rafters are anchored. The top of the rafters attach to the outside wall of the house.

The greenhouse is double glazed. A UV stabilized greenhouse plastic is stapled to the rafters on the the interior and a tough woven poly greenhouse material covers the outside. As it turns out, the outside woven poly material has been a great choice for our location. Not only has it endured several bear attacks (the claw marks are still clearly visible), but it has also survived flying embers from a couple of forest fires. Although a marauding bear did penetrate one section of the cover, we were able to patch the breach and the material is still doing its job after 16 years.

Our Greenhouse

Another advantage to having our greenhouse attached directly to the south side of the house is the fact that the structure overlaps two of our downstairs windows. So on sunny days, even when it is chilly outside, we can open those two windows and have the warmth from the greenhouse flowing into the downstairs as solar heating. This produces enough warmth so that we don't have to get our wood stove going that day.

It takes a bit of doing to keep the little plants alive when nighttime temperatures plummet to -20F like they did a few weeks ago. All credit goes to Johanna who faithfully tends to our cold frame box. She uncovers the box during the day to let in the warming rays of the sun and late in the afternoon, fills the milk jugs with hot water and makes sure the plants are covered and protected for the night. It's amazing what jugs of hot water and a blanket can do to get our gardening season off to an early start.

The first reward for all this effort is a picking of lettuce. To supplement the lettuce, while waiting for the radishes and onions to mature, we add fresh sprouts we've germinated. Shredded red cabbage from last summer's garden we've overwintered in the root cellar adds some color and flavor to the mix.

We certainly take a great deal of satisfaction when the first bowls of salad are served after the long winter.

Our First Salad (Bowl Sitting on the Snow)

Thanks for reading and I'll be back again next week.

Ron Melchiore and his, wife Johanna, currently live alone 100 miles in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. Ron is the author of: Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness by Ron Melchiore published by Moon Willow Press and is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Ron can be contacted at and on Facebook and Pinterest. Read all of Ron's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

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