Monthly Archives: March 2016

To Save The Bees (Part II) Planting

This was not what I planned on writing about for part II (that post will now become part three) but since it is taking a while to write that post I thought I would quickly tell you what we did Tuesday.

A few weeks ago I decided to order 4 Basswood trees also known as American Linden trees. I have been shopping local garden centers for these trees for the past two summers but have yet to find them. We were not really sure about ordering bare root trees through the mail, because we haven’t had very good results doing this in the past.  I was able to find a nursery in Michigan that had them for sale,  but a 6 hour round trip to purchase a few trees did not seem very practical. Since I really wanted Basswood, ordering them seemed our best option.

I love things that serve multiple purposes and Basswood trees seemed a good choice for several reasons. Basswoods are sometimes called bee trees as the blossoms are said to attract bees and butterflies. The nectar is said to make a high quality honey. The flowers of the Basswood (American Linden) can be used to make a tea which is used for medicinal purposes. I have also read that their leaves are edible. Basswood grow into great shade trees and their fruit is eaten by wildlife.

Tuesday morning the trees arrived via UPS. The weather was favorable for planting trees so  we packed up and headed for the farm.


The trees looked very healthy and had good root systems.


This one is somewhat camouflaged in the photo.


After each tree was planted we put a fence around it to protect it from deer. Before next winter we will also need to protect the trunks from being eaten by mice or rabbits.


I am looking forward to seeing these trees leaf-out over the next few weeks. Planting trees does not offer the quick gratification that you may get from planting annuals or perennials, and I am not certain how old these trees have to be before they flower and bear fruit, but we intend to be around and keeping bees for many years, so we look forward to seeing that as well.

If you are thinking about planting trees and providing food for the bees, fruit trees are another good option. I would recommend doing a little research before you select a tree, because some fruit trees need a second variety, as a pollinator, in order to produce fruit. Then you and the bees can both benefit from the tree(s).

Coloring Eggs and Chicken Update

Last year we were curious about coloring brown eggs, so we decided to try it. This year, since I decided to make deviled eggs for today, I thought I would color them first and share my results, in case anyone else is curious.



I used regular food coloring, something I vaguely remember doing as a child, before Paas came out with the egg coloring kits.

The eggs I colored were varying degrees of brown. I follow the directions on the food coloring package – 1 tps. of white vinegar, 20 drops of food coloring and 1/2 cup of boiling water. Since I didn’t have 20 drops of red food coloring I mixed 15 drops of red and 5 drops of blue, which gave me the maroon color. The two on the top left are blue, the two on the top right are green, the two on the bottom left are maroon and the two on the bottom right are yellow. The eggs that were darker brown going into the dye came out in darker shades than the ones that were lighter going in. The answer is:  while brown eggs don’t make pretty, pastel Easter eggs, they indeed can be dyed.

I’ll also add a quick chicken update.

This past Monday as our  Buff Orpington chicks turned 4 weeks old, and are now feathered out,  we moved them to the farm. They seemed to be getting bored in the hutch on the deck and needed room to roam.


They rode in this crate to the farm.


The Chicken yard was busy when we got there, but when the big birds realized that we did not bring them treats, most of them went off to find their own goodies.

My husband had added new roost space inside the coop, enough to accommodate 30 chickens. Before bringing out the young ones today  he also penned in an area around the small chicken door to keep the young ones close to the coop.


The big birds will use the big (people) door for now.


Some of the big birds were curious.


Some even came and visited. The big hens gave the little ones an occasional, intimidating, peck, but it was mostly if they got too close to the food (treats).  We had to move the big hens out of the penned area because they could not find the way out on their own. At night my husband put “the group of 8”, as he is fondly calling the young buffs, into the coop where they huddled together in one of the nest boxes. “The Group of 8” spent their fist couple of days mostly inside the coop, and my husband found it necessary to open up the penned in area because the big birds would get in and be trapped there.

Yesterday “The Group of 8” spent the day out on their own. They mostly stayed together and sometimes with the rest of the flock. There has been no signs of aggression from the big birds, but I wouldn’t think there would be from a group who will share their living quarters (food and all) with 20 or more starlings during the winter. “The Group of 8” is now in training for their nighttime routine which includes returning to the coop at night and using the ramp to get inside. I’m sure they will catch on quickly.

After Monday’s move, we decided to make it a full house (coop). Since we only had 24 birds we went to the farm store for 6 more. Again they did not have the breed we were looking for (Buff Orpington) so we decided this time on Barred Rocks.



Upon adding this “six pack” we comment that our flock is becoming very diverse.

And with that I wish you all a Beautiful and Blessed Easter. Until next time 🙂

To Save The Bees (Part I) Do Nothing


Recently someone sent me an email which contained this picture. Her comment was, “I thought this was interesting”. Since she thought it was interesting I thought other readers might think so as well.

This is the time of year when people start itching to get outside and beautify their yards, so it’s the perfect time to write about it.  While I think the photo (above) is good, I’d like to offer some other thoughts, ideas and links for reference.

It you have access to pretty much any media source you have probably heard in recent years about the honey bees being in danger. There have been countless stories of mysterious bee die-offs and colony collapse disorder. When we tell people that we are bee keepers, we often get comments about the bees disappearing and people seem to have varying degrees of knowledge on the topic. Disturbing as it is, I won’t go into my thoughts on the many causes of this, but instead focus on what individuals can do to, as the above photo says, “Help Save The Bees”. I have found this website to be a good resource if you want to know more about the topic.

I think it is important to note that it is not only the honey bees that are in danger. The honey bee is the one we most often think of and are probably most concerned with because we humans have become managers of the honey bee. We put them in homes (hives), where we want them, and feed or medicate them when we feel it is necessary. We then utilize their services for pollenating our crops and we rob them of their products (honey, wax, pollen, propolis) for our consumption. Other bee types, each with their own attributes, are disappearing as well. Even though we don’t get honey or other products from them these other bees, wasps, and hornets they still play important roles in nature,  doing things like pollinating plants and helping control insect populations by feeding on insects and caterpillars.

I do think that rather than sit on our hands and wait years for the government to come up with a plan and then spend millions of dollars on it, that most of us have the power to do some little things that can make a difference.

In addition to the message in the above picture, I’ll offer the following suggestions:

#1. Do Nothing – I’m not trying to confuse you when I say that the first action that should be considered, and is quite appropriate in many situations, is to do nothing. What I mean is let nature take its course. We often see bees, hornets and wasps as dangerous and feel the need to exterminate them from our space, so when we find a nest we are quick to seek ways to get rid of it. Sometimes, they do indeed, build nests in buildings, or equipment, or other places where they just can’t stay, so it is necessary to get rid of them. Other times it may be possible to allow them to stay.

Last year, for example, we discovered a bald faced hornets nest in the tree in front of our house. The nest was about 12 feet up and hung over the street. It was also near my parking place in the driveway. My first thought was that it was dangerous for whoever cut the grass, it was also potentially dangerous for people riding bikes or walking under that tree, I wondered if they would become disturbed by my entering and exiting my vehicle, and heaven forbid some kids should decide to play ball in the street and hit that nest. My husband and I talked about it and decided that if these hornets became aggressive we would then remove the nest. These hornets visited our deck daily but I only saw one or two at a time. They would fly around but never attempted to sting. I did observe them eating other insects. They never seemed disturbed by the grass being cut or our being in the area of their nest. We were able to peacefully coexist and I feel good about our decision to let them stay. If at all possible give bees, wasps and hornets their (or a piece of your) space.

#2 Do Nothing – Another way to do nothing, or let nature take its course, is to let wild flowers grow and blossom, thus providing food for the bees. Unfortunately we have come to think of many of the blossoms that the bees feed on as unsightly weeds. In our area bees forage on the dandelions and clover in our lawns and in addition they forage on things like golden rod, asters, thistle blossoms and many other (weeds) that  grow in fields and along ditches. So instead of cutting , pulling or using herbicides to eradicate these weeds, we can decide to “do nothing”. Enjoy seeing the dandelions blossom in your yard or the thistle and golden rod take over a field or the side of the ditch and know they are a beautiful source of food for the bees.

I also want to share my thoughts about planting for the bees but have decided to do the in a separate post, so stay tuned for Part II.





Spearmint Soap, Moving Day and Maple Syrup

Spearmint Soap

I’m still excited about my spearmint soap, but after taking it out of the molds I realized that maybe I should have done a little research before making this recipe. I’m beginning to think that my middle name should have been “Experiment”, because I seem to do a lot of that.  Although the soap is not fatally flawed, and only the appearance of the soap will suffer, I did make one mistake that can and will be corrected in future batches.

Spearmint Soap

This picture shows some brown spots that developed on the soap. While I was certain the spots were caused by the spearmint, I was a bit perplexed about why the brown spots only occurred in some areas and why some of the spearmint retained its green color. I decided to do a google search to find out what others have experienced when adding spearmint to handcrafted soap. The first site I found, described this effect as bleeding. I found out that bleeding is when the color from an embedded object leaches of into the surrounding area. I found out that many herbs can have this effect, and to varying degrees, but spearmint is one of the worst.

The next website that I came across actually told me how to prevent this from happening. It said that the cause is the actual color coming out of the leaves when it is submerged in the wetness of the soap, and if you make a tea with the herbs first, the color will leach out into the water (tea). Then the leaves can be added to the soap. That answered my question. When I made my soap I added the spearmint leaves that I had used to make the tea with, but since I wasn’t sure I had enough, I decided to add some dry leaves as well. I have concluded that the dry leaves that I added are the ones that bled into the soap, while the leaves from the tea remained green. Since this is simply an aesthetic problem, Dom and I are looking forward to using these bars of soap.

The good news is I can detect a slight minty smell to this soap.

Moving Day

2 Weeks Old

The chicks seemed to be getting quite curious about the world outside of their brooder. Every time we would walk up to the brooder they would crane their necks looking  up at us. Since the weather has warmed significantly for the near term forecast, we decided Tuesday was moving day.


My husband brought the hutch out of the back shed and assembled it while I was busy in the kitchen. “Movin’ On Up” the theme song from the Jefferson’s kept running through my head. I would change the words to “Movin’ on out, to the deck” but the tune repeated itself over and over in my mind. I probably could have stopped this by turning on the radio, but it was a nice day, I was in a good mood, and it really wasn’t bothering me, in fact I thought it was kind of funny. It turned really funny when I was helping my husband carry the brooder out the deck, and he started singing “Movin’ on up…” Like minds.


The heat lamp was moved into their new home. As were their food and water dishes.


They seemed very curious about everything, but settled in nicely.


Their play house was also moved with them.

My camera battery died before I got to take a picture of the roost my husband installed for them.  (Roosters aren’t the only ones who like to roost) I also did not get a picture of the canvass that drapes the hutch to protect them from the elements. It is just a large piece of canvass that we lay over the top of the hutch, it drapes down the sides and front. When the chicks need the warmth we wrap the hutch with the canvass just like wrapping a Christmas present, and we secure the canvass with clips.

The “Babies” seem very content in their new (but temporary) home, Scout can now see them at eye level, and don’t be surprised if, on the evenings when the weather is nice, I tell you that we sat on the deck and watched “Chicken TV”.

Maple Syrup


Sunday and Monday were our last day for collecting sap. Since the sap was still running clear we may have pulled the spiles a little early, it may have been only a few hours or maybe a few days prior to the time the sap would become cloudy. The nighttime temperatures will not be below freezing at least for the next week and the buds on the Silver Maple trees are getting ready to pop open.

Our big consideration was the extreme amounts of time and energy that were needed to turn the sap into syrup, and decided that we had done enough. Since February 20th, when we first tapped the trees, until now, my husband spent 5 full days (9-12 hours each) out at the farm cooking sap, getting the fire going then continually adding wood to the fire to keep the sap boiling, stirring and watching the steam roll off, as the water boiled out, then adding more sap to the pot. At the end of the day he would bring the sap home and we would spend another 1 1/2 to 2 hours cooking the sap into syrup.

I don’t have exact numbers on our total yield for the season. My best guess is between 5 and 6 quarts of syrup.

My husband and I agree that it was a great experience and having homemade, self-harvested maple syrup is greatly rewarding. Some of our thoughts about this experience are that it was not a steady year for maple syrup, in our area, since the extreme weather changes over the  last couple of weeks prompted the sap to stop and start flowing several times. We found out that our Silver Maple trees at the farm had greater sap flow than the Sugar Maples that we tapped. In fact, last week when the silver maples were flowing well and the sugar maples were not flowing, my husband moved all of the taps to the Silver Maples. We found out that The Silver Maples make a wonderful syrup. We observed that the color of the syrup seemed to get lighter over the course of the season, with our first batch being the darkest and each batch slightly lighter in color. Thankfully it is a short season for making maple syrup and not a year round job.

A Bonus Picture



This squirrel enjoyed the day in the tree. Apparently too nervous about our (and the boys) presence to venture down.


New Soap

I made a new soap recipe this morning that I am pretty excited about. The oils in this recipe are sunflower oil, tallow and coconut oil. I have used this combination in the past and I know that it makes a hard bar of soap that is cleansing, conditioning, and has great lather. For this soap I decided to use a spearmint tea, made with our homegrown spearmint, for the liquid and added crushed spearmint leaves to the soap.

Spearmint Soap In The Molds 6 Hours After Being Made
Cocoa Soap Still Going Through The Gel Stage 48 Hours After Being Made

As you can see in the picture this soap sets up quickly compared to this cocoa soap which was made with coconut oil and olive oil, and was still going through the gel stage 48 hours after it was made. The spearmint soap has been in the mold less than 6 hours. Tomorrow I will take it out of the molds and cut it into bars. The individual bars will be test bars. In about 6 weeks, when the soap is ready to be tested, I will use one and give one to my husband. There are a couple more for family members who volunteer (KC?) or are recruited (JB?) to test and evaluate them, before I decide to sell them. It is my hope that a bit of the spearmint scent remains along with the refreshing feeling that spearmint gives. Our spearmint did, after all, make one heck of a nice spearmint vodka.