Category Archives: Bees

My Thoughts About Bee Keeping and Honey

We started our bee keeping ventures in 2013 and to date it has been the most frustrating farming activity we do. Hive losses are heartbreaking and we have had many. Probably our worst experience was when the bees we ordered did not even make it to our farm alive. You can read about that here. If you read that article you may understand when I say that bee keeping is also one of the most thrilling and rewarding activities that we do. Capturing swarms, observing the bees while they forage and pollenate our crops, harvesting honey and wax all make this so.

As with everything we do our bee keeping efforts are done on a small scale. We often use the word boutique to describe our farm. Since we started bee keeping we have maintained at least one hive and at times had as many as seven hives. Each year we have harvested honey and for the last 4 or so years we have harvested and processed our own wax as well. If you are interested in learning how I filter bees wax you can  read about that here.

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Beekeeping has given me a whole new understanding and appreciation of honey. Most of my life I have used store bought honey and never thought much about it. The color and flavor were pretty consistent. Honey was just honey. It wasn’t until we started harvesting our own honey that I realized that honey is not just honey. In fact we have yet to have any two honey harvests where the honey tasted the same.

When people find out that we are beekeepers they often have many questions. Below are some of the points I make when talking about bees and honey.

  • Each honey harvest is (should be) a wonderfully, unique blend of nectars and pollen from various plants that have been in season.
  • The color and flavor of honey should vary between harvests.
  • Mono cropping, the practice of moving bee hives to a particular location where a specific crop is in blossom in order for the bees to pollinate that crop, may be detrimental to bee health. (how well would you fare if you only ate one food for the majority of your life?)
  • Feeding bees sugar syrup is probably not good for the bees.
  • Local honey may or may not be effective as a treatment for allergies depending on what the bees were foraging to make their honey.
  • In the U.S. honey suppliers are required to put their address on the honey label. Buying honey that has a local address does not necessarily mean you are buying honey that was produced locally.
  • Raw honey is honey that has not been heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Honey can be stored at room temperature and has an indefinite shelf life.
  • Honey might crystalize but it is still good.
  • Honey that has crystalized can be turned into liquid again by slowly heating the jar in a pan of water. Do not microwave!
  • Because the honey may crystalize and you may want to heat it to make it liquid again do not buy honey in plastic bottles.

Do you have any questions or thoughts about honey bees or honey? Leave me a comment and I will be sure to get back to you.

Thanks for reading and have a great day! 🙂

 

 

 

As Summer Comes To A Close

We are (too) quickly approaching the Fall equinox and it seems that Summer and Fall have been duking it out. Some days we have had cooler fall-like temperatures but on other days have been hot, reminding us that it is still summer.

I thought I would share some of my observations from my morning walks at the farm on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tuesday morning was warm and humid. As I arrived at the farm a bunny, who was sitting in the driveway, scampered away. When I exited my van two deer, who were near the pond, made a quick exit into the woods as well. As the sun rose, burning off bits of fog, the dew was still heavy and glistened on blades of grass and clover leaves. My rubber boots were soaked but my feet were dry as I walked the path around the back field.

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While most of the sunflowers have gone to seed, we still have one patch that are smiling brightly with their faces turned toward the rising sun.

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We had planted sunflower patches several times throughout the spring and summer and this last patch is now being enjoyed by our bees and many other pollinators.

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Apple picking is not far off. We have tasted a few apples but have decided they needed a bit more time to ripen.

 

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I saw and heard many birds this morning, but this one seemed to be posing for me.

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The wild flowers in the field are in transition. Thistle and Queen Anne’s Lace have all gone to seed and Golden Rod is fading, but Asters are now blossoming. The bees will forage the Asters into the fall while they continue to build their stores for winter.

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The Maple trees are beginning to change color, ushering in the new season, yet the Hibiscus continue to bloom, holding tight to these last days of summer.

Wednesday morning was cooler. The sun was shielded by a thick blanket of clouds. I did not spot any rabbits or deer which is somewhat unusual. Although I wore my rubber boots, the ground was not wet and my farm shoes probably would have kept my just feet dry.

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The sunflowers seemed to be searching for the sun, their heads turned in various directions.

The air was still as I walked the path around the back field, but I was amused seeing the  weeds wiggled as grass hoppers jumped on them or hit them on their way by.

I didn’t hear the song birds like the previous morning instead I heard crows and then turkeys. I heard the turkeys several times as I walked the path across the field but I did not spot them until I reached the wood line.

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There was a flock of them in the neighbors yard – I would have liked to get a better shot but they seemed disturbed and had I gone any closer they would have scattered.

It seems that Summer has passed way to fast this year, and as she travels south for the winter I bid her farewell.

We’ll welcome fall with hopes of many pleasant days, as there is still much work to do before winter arrives.

How about you? Has summer seemed short to you? Are you looking forward to the change of seasons? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thanks for visiting. 🙂

 

Spring Happenings

The last weekend in May is known as the unofficial start of summer and the weather last weekend played right along. Temperatures were around 90 degrees Fahrenheit for several days. Time seems to being going so fast that I am wondering how I missed spring.

I went back and looked at some of my photos from the last few weeks for a reminder.

IMG_4094The fruit trees, including apple, pear, and tart cherry all blossomed and are now setting fruit. Berry bushes, including our blue berry, raspberry, currant and grapes are setting fruit as well.

IMG_4091The dandelions blossomed and my husband helped me pick a bunch for soap making before they went to seed. I have enough for two batches of sweet dandelion soap. Trooper didn’t help pick dandelions but he enjoyed being there.

Speaking of Sweet Dandelion soap, I had just made a batch in May when I received the Mother’s Day gift my girls bought for me. It is a soap stamp. So I began playing with it as this batch was curing.IMG_4128It will be tricky to figure out when the soap is the correct degree of hardness for the stamp to work just right and challenging learning to apply the right amount of pressure to the stamp so I don’t squish the soap. I thought about using some type of coloring to add contrast, but it has to be something natural since I do not use artificial coloring in my soap. In the above photo I used cinnamon in one and turmeric in the other. Learning to use this will be a lot of trial and error.

The dandelions have now gone to seed and last week when I was mowing the lawn I was getting bombarded with dandelion seeds. They were flying everywhere and they were stuck to my clothes and in my hair. I told my husband I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up with dandelions growing out of my ears. He thought they would probably grow from my belly button because “you know everyone has a little dirt in their belly button.” LOL!IMG_4106We have been hearing  pheasants a lot on the farm and in the neighboring field and every now and the we get a glimpse of one. We are glad to see them as it had seemed that the pheasant population had all but disappeared over the last thirty or so years.

IMG_4102We have spotted many new nests around the farm this spring mostly they have been empty when we looked but one had robin eggs in it and I did spot this momma sitting on hers.

IMG_4127We also have a pair of ducks who have been frequenting the pond this spring. My husband and I agree that we will not be surprised if we find out that they have a nest in the woods next to the pond. I guess we will know if they show up with babies.

IMG_4097This past winter was a bad one for bees in our area. We lost four of our five hives so we bought two more packages and installed them into hives. Since my husband installed them on his own I didn’t get any photos.

The garden has been planted. We have tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, egg plant, potatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, cantaloupe, water melon, lettuce, Swiss chard, celery, basil, parsley, carrots, beets, green beans, corn, winter squash and pumpkins.

Along with the hot weather came a dry spell – we weren’t really expecting it because the weather forecasters had predicted that we would get rain and storms as the remnants from tropical storm Alberto made it’s way North into our part of the country. Somehow all that rain missed us.

IMG_1233Fortunately my husband had put the pump in the pond and we were able to take advantage of the wind that we had last week to get the tanks filled and keep things watered as we awaited the rain.

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We finally got rain this morning and what a blessing it is. Not only will it give all of our crops the boost that they need right now, and give us a break from watering, it makes pulling weeds much easier. Pulling weeds is one of the thing we have been spending much time doing this past week as weeds were threatening to take over the strawberry patch, the garlic field and the asparagus patch. Pulling weeds out of dry clay soil is next to impossible so that task will go much quicker now.

IMG_4124.JPGSince the temperatures were so warm (hot) I did spend some time last Friday raking the beach area. If I have to work on a hot day cleaning the pond is the perfect job. 🙂 After I raked the leaves out of the beach area and used our small rototiller to rough up the sand we set up our beach chairs and umbrella. Woo hoo we are ready for summer!!!

The following day when the sun was high in the sky and temperatures soared, a dip in the pond was a refreshing treat.

Thus far we have picked and eaten and froze lots of asparagus and I picked some rhubarb and put several packages in the freezer as well. When I was freezing the rhubarb I discovered one small package of rhubarb from last year. I decided I needed to use it up. I also found the last of my strawberries from last year – another small package. Since there were only about a cup of each there was not really enough to make this into a pie or crisp, so I decided to make strawberry-rhubarb sauce. I put both the strawberries and the rhubarb in a sauce pan then added a bit of water – maybe a half cup. I wasn’t too worried about having too much because I could cook it off to get the sauce to thicken. I simmered this until the fruit was soft. I then mashed the mixture with a potato masher. I continued cooking it until it was thick and added sugar to taste. I can’t really tell you how much sugar to add because everybody likes a different degree of sweetness and some strawberries are much sweeter than others. I just started with a couple tablespoons and tasted until it was right. While this fruity dessert was good eaten plain, my husband used some as an ice cream topping and I mixed some with some vanilla yogurt as well.

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and I have always believed that time seems to go faster as I get older, so I think both of these combined explains why it is June already and I feel like I missed Spring. Thanks for sticking with me for this recap.

Just curious – does time seem to be flying by for you as well?

Working With Nature

Our farm is our haven.  It is a place where we can kick back and relax but it is also where we work. It differs from most work places in that we do not answer to a human boss or employer; instead we answer to nature. The weather and the numbers of hours of daylight largely dictate what we need to do on the farm. Planting, watering, weeding, harvesting are all tasks that are based on the weather.

Our farm is also a haven for many other living beings. We often celebrate the wildlife on the farm as many of them aid in our farming efforts. Others as less celebrated and require more work from us as we have to guard crops and livestock against them. In this post I want show you many of the critters we share our farm with and discuss what we consider best practices (for us) to deal with them.

Rabbits

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Our farm is home to a large rabbit population. One advantage to having rabbits on the farm is that they are preyed upon by many of the same animals that prey upon our chickens. If a hawk, owl or coyote can fill up on a rabbit perhaps they are less likely to go after our chickens. Secondly, even though we are not hunters, in a pinch hunting rabbit as a source of food would be an option.

The disadvantage to having rabbits is that they do enjoy eating many of the foods we grow. So far it has been our experience that rabbits may eat a partial row of greens here or there, but they have not completely destroyed any of our crops. Even the baby bunnies that we discovered living in our strawberry bed last year did not do much damage. I suspect that since there is so much wild vegetation growing on the farm the rabbits are well fed without needing to vandalize our gardens.

We are happy to share our farm with rabbits, and at this point we have not found the need to use any defensive measures against them; even the four babies that were living in the strawberry bed moved out quickly once we began frequenting the area to pick ripe berries.

Squirrels

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Squirrels are another critter that live on our farm. We have a lot of mature hickory and oak trees that provide the food that they need. Squirrels have not become a problem on the farm and they give Trooper a work out every now and then.

Birds

On any given day during the summer I would guess that we may see and/or hear thirty or more species of birds while at that farm. Some we can identify by sight or sound and some still remain anonymous to us.

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Many of the birds, like this Blue Jay, use the pond for bathing and it always a pleasure to watch them take a dip along the waters edge. Blue Jays are omnivorous, with a diet comprised of nuts, seeds, berries, bugs and more.  Interestingly they are known to store acorns, much like a squirrel, to have for food during the winter. I suspect it is because their diet includes such a wide variety of things that we have not found them to be much of a threat to our crops.

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Some birds, like this Orchard Oriole and the Robin below are more of a challenge. Using netting over the blue berry bushes, as the berries start to ripen, is essential if we want to harvest any blue berries for ourselves.

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Even with netting some birds can find their way to the berries.

While netting seems to be our best option with blue berries I have taken a different approach when it comes to Elder Berries. Our Elder Berry bush that is mature enough to produce fruit is over eight feet tall and on a slope, which poses problems when it comes to putting netting over the bush.  I discovered a couple of years ago that the birds do not wait for elder berries to get ripe, they eat them while they are still green. Since my main purpose for growing elder berries is for the medicinal benefits I began harvesting the flowers which also have great medicinal properties.

Last year when we had our first real apple crop we discovered the some birds were eating the apples as they ripened. Again because of the size of these trees netting does not seem a feasible option, so I think this year we will experiment with some of these other deterrents.

Our pond is a main attraction for many species of birds.

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Ducks and geese will occasionally pay us a visit. Fortunately they have not decided to take up residence and raise a family there. I suspect they do not find it a suitable home because of our presence, thus we are a natural deterrent.

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Occasionally both White and Blue Herons stop by the pond for a snack. We can view them from a distance but if we approach the area they quickly fly off.

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This bird had me stumped for a couple of years. During the summer I would see it (more likely them) eating at the edge of the pond. I looked at many bird sites and books and then sought help from others before I could identify it as a Green Heron. I suspect we had a pair nesting in the wooded area near the pond for a couple of years, but last summer I only saw  them a couple of times so they may have nested somewhere else in the area.

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Wild Turkeys live in the area and we occasionally see a flock of them passing though. They do not nest on the farm, probably because we mow the back field in the fall so it does not offer the protection that is needed for their nest.

Insects

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Many Butterflies, or Flutter-bys as I like to call them, with their beautiful colors and patterns, frequent the farm in the summer. They share the task of pollination with our bees and many other insects.

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They can often be found collecting nectar from flowering plants

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or drinking water on the beach. While we see many different species of butterflies they do tend to be camera shy so I have a very limited selection of butterfly photos.

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Dragonflies and damselflies are probably my favorite insects to watch. Unlike the  butterflies who flutter in a somewhat relaxed nature, the dragonflies movement is swift.

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They too come in an array of brilliant colors. They do not bite and in fact at times seem friendly as they hitch a ride on a shirt sleeve. The fact that dragon flies dine heavily on less desirable insects is a huge plus.

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The Praying Mantis is a unique creature that we see occasionally in our area. I actually had to check the spelling of it’s name as he/she is also a preying mantis. This bug does eat other bugs but is not very selective, so while it might aid in ridding us of undesirable insects, it might also eat honey bees and others that we find valuable. Having just a small population of these is okay.

If you are a regular reader you probably know that we are bee keepers so there are a lot of Honey Bees on our farm. Even though these bees did not arrive on our farm naturally and are living in manmade hives rather than a hollow tree, they are considered part of nature on our farm.

We do try to use natural methods of managing our hives. We do not use chemicals in the hive, we do not split hives to keep them from swarming, we do not replace a queen in the hive because we fear she is too old, and we make sure the bees have enough honey left in the hive so that we do not have to feed them sugar water. We usually even save some of the harvested honey in case we find that the bees need to be fed.

Our belief is that a healthy hive can naturally manage themselves so our goal is to help them remain healthy.

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One way to help the bees remain healthy is ensuring that they have a variety of food sources. I have not seen any studies or reports on this but it makes sense that, just as you or I require different foods to build healthy bodies, bees would also be healthier when their diet is comprised of pollen and nectar from a variety of plants.

To accomplish this we allow many plants that grow naturally, and many would consider weeds, to grow on the farm. Among these are dandelions, golden rod, asters and Canadian thistle – all heavily foraged by bees. We also grow flowers, vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and other plants that bees like. Some of these include lavender, thyme, sunflowers, chamomile, clover, buckwheat, squash and pumpkins and apple trees.

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The other thing that bees need is water and again we feel that having a clean water source can contribute to the health of the bees. Honey bees are frequent visitors to the edges of our pond.

Late spring and summer we usually see the hives swarm. This is how honey bees naturally increase in population. When the hive begins to get too crowded they make a new queen. Once the new queen is hatched the old queen leaves the hive with the swarm of workers and drones to create a new colony.

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Most often we attempt to capture the swarm and put them in an empty hive, but sometimes the swarm lands in a place that is inaccessible to us, like 30 feet up in a hickory tree. In this case we wish them well. Since we live in an area where there are hundreds of acres of mature woods, it is not out of the question that these bees can find a suitable home in a hollow tree and survive in the wild.

In return for our stewardship the honey bees provide us with pollination services as well as honey and bees wax.

Deer

There is a large deer population in the area. They probably draw the most attention from visitors at the farm. While some people see Bambi others see venison steaks. As I mentioned before we are not hunters, and the fact is that warm and fuzzy Disney type critters can be very destructive in real life. The deer have been our biggest challenge thus far.

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Deer will eat or at least taste just about anything. The only way to protect our gardens and trees against deer is fencing.

Reportedly white tail deer can jump eight feet, so 7.5 to 8 foot is the recommended height for deer fencing. We have discovered that for fencing our garden areas and trees 4 foot high fencing is sufficient to keep the deer out.

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My theory on this is that four foot fence keeps the deer out because we have not fenced in the whole property, which would have cut off their travel routes. We have only fenced in sections. There is still plenty of clover and grass in the field for them to graze and they are not standing outside our garden coveting our pumpkin and Swiss chard.

Four foot high individual fences also work to protect young trees from the deer. Once the trees braches are higher than the fence the are usually safe because deer don’t generally eat anything higher than their head.

Aquatic Life

Before I begin talking about the life in the pond I really should point out the earth worm in this picture. Earth worms are probably a farmers best friend. They loosen the soil by tunneling through the ground and also add nitrogen to the soil. We are always happy to see earthworms as we are gardening.

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Earthworms also make good bait for catching perch.

When we dug our pond in 2012 my husband, who is knowledgeable about such things decided to build an ecosystem that would support fish and other aquatic life. At it’s deepest point the pond goes down 20+ feet. Before the pond filled with water we put in two piles of large rocks where fish could potentially spawn, find shade or hide from larger predators.

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Our sand beach also extends at least 12 feet into the pond which makes great spawning ground for perch and the windmill works as an aerator pumping air into the pond. In 2013 we stocked the pond with perch, fathead minnows, some walleye, a few channel catfish, and a few pike.

We know that the perch and minnows are breeding in the pond. We know that there are still catfish and walleye living in the pond but have not been able to establish that they have reproduced. We also know that as of last summer we have at least one large mouth bass living there.

Fish are the only thing we added to they pond. All of the rest of the living beings showed up on their own.

IMG_2911Among those frogs are a favorite. Frogs and toads are very useful on the farm as they eat lots of bugs and slugs and such.

Last year we happened to be at the farm on frog mating day. The frogs were very loud that day. Their high pitched, drawn out, melodious chirps filled the air.

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As we walked toward the area that the sound was coming from it was quite incredible to see dozens, if not hundreds, of frogs gathered in the pond. We have identified several types of frogs and toads on the farm and they are all welcome.

Turtles are also amongst those who have taken up residence in our pond. At this point we have only seen painted turtles which are harmless and at times even humorous.

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They also tend to be camera shy so my photo selection is limited. The turtles are reproducing on the farm as each year we see the cutest little baby turtles.

In touching on the benefits and challenges that these beings provide to our farming efforts I did not mention the greatest gift they offer. “Peaceful” is the word most commonly used by visitors to describe our farm.

Maybe you can picture it – squirrels scampering from tree to tree or rabbits playing tag in the yard; a herd of deer grazing in the field; listening to a symphony of songbirds while tending the garden; being serenaded by a chorus of frogs, in three part harmony, as you sit around an evening campfire.

It is uplifting, it is relaxing, it is peaceful, it is serene, it is tranquil, and it will make you smile. All of the creatures that make up this ecosystem provide an environment that is seemingly anti-stressIt is healthy for the mind, body and spirit and we are blessed to be part of it.

I hope you enjoyed visiting our farm. Please feel free to share you thoughts in the comments section below.

 

To Save The Bees (Part II) Planting

This is part two of the three part series originally published in 2016. Since this post talks about planting trees I will tell you that it was just this week that I realized that the bees are collecting pollen from our maple trees. This was a huge relief for me as early spring seems to be when the bees are the most vulnerable. They may have depleted their winter stores and there are very little, if any, blossoming plants for them to forage. As we watched them flying from the hive and my husband reported seeing them return with pollen I wondered what they were finding. There were only two things had budded – maple trees and poplar trees. I know that bees collect resin from poplar trees to make propolis that they use to seal the hive shut, but after some research I discovered that bees do indeed collect pollen from maple trees.

Don't Eat It! Soap and Skin Care

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. http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/basswood 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, http://www.coldstreamfarm.net/american-basswood-tilia-americana.html  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…

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