Category Archives: Bees

Our Homemade Halloween Costumes

In the 17 years we have been together my husband and I have never been to a Halloween costume party before.  A few weeks ago we received a flyer in telling us that our community was having a Halloween party with food, games, and prizes for the best costume. I set the flyer aside and didn’t think much about it until a few days later when my husband, who had been weeding the strawberry patch all day, told me that he knew what he was going to dress up as for the party.

When he shared his idea with me I thought that it was very clever and would be a lot of fun. I wasn’t surprised that he came up with this cute idea because when you spend all day on your hands and knees pulling weeds you really do have a lot of time to think. Pulling weeds is a very mindless task. I am glad he didn’t want me to guess what he was planning because even though I was certain it would be farming related and that it wasn’t going to cost much, if anything, I would never have thought of this (unless maybe I had spend all day on my hands and knees pulling weeds).

He told me he was going to be a Boo Keeper – think Bee Keeper + Ghost Buster. “I’ll wear my bee suit and carry a net and have little ghosts flying around me and some in the net,” he said. My wheels started turning and in my mind I already had the little Kleenex ghosts made.

About a week later my husband asked what I was going to dress up like for the party. I was just thinking of putting together a scare crow costume out of some of the clothes I have on hand. “You could be a Boo Keeper too he offered, or how about the Queen Boo.” Okay, I liked the idea of Queen Boo. We created both of our costumes mostly with things we had on hand. So here is what we did.

I started with making little ghosts (boo’s). IMG_3355

We decided to make them bee-like so I first used markers to put some black and yellow stripes on them. When I went to my craft supplies I discovered that I had some Styrofoam balls that were the perfect size for the head. If I did not have the Styrofoam balls I would have just balled up a piece of newspaper. I centered the Styrofoam ball on the Kleenex then gather the Kleenex around the ball and tied it with thread. I think I learned to make these little ghosts when I was in grade school. I left the thread long enough that I could thread it through a needled and attach it to the costume.

I then cut some wings out of tissue paper and glued them on.

IMG_3367

Our little ghost bees became known as boo BEES. Warning: Please be careful how you pronounce that lest you get the wrong idea.

Next I made my Queen Boo wings. My husband had a spool of wire, so I used the wire to form a frame for the wings. After forming the first wing I twisted the wire around itself then made the second wing and again twisted the wire together in the center. I covered the twisted ends of the wire with duck tape so I would not get poked or scratched with the ends of the wire.

I glued one wing to a full size piece of tissue paper. When the glue was dry I glued a second piece of tissue paper to the other side of that wing. When the second side was dry I cut the tissue paper in the shape of the wing leaving about 1/2 inch overhang. I repeated the process with the second wing.

 

IMG_3369

My crown was made of poster board. I wanted it to have a honey comb pattern. To make the honeycomb pattern I decided I could use a wax foundation that we use in the beehives. The bees use these foundation as a base for building their comb. Since the poster board was too thick I decided to use printer paper the make the honey comb design. I placed the printer paper on the wax foundation then colored over it with a brown crayon.

I then  removed the paper from the foundation and colored over the brown honeycomb with a yellowish crayon to give it a honey-like color. I glued the printer paper onto the poster board strip then waited for the glue to dry before cutting out the crown points. I fitted the crown to my head and used tape to hold it’s circular shape.

My husband suggested using glitter on the crown to give it some glitz, but I don’t do glitter. In my personal opinion glitter is an invasive species. Once glitter is introduced into an environment it will spread like wildfire and it seems you will spend the rest of your life trying to get rid of it.

I wore a black turtle neck and black leggings with an oversized white t-shirt that I picked up at Joann Fabrics for $3.00. My husband wore a pair of Tyvek coveralls that he had on hand, then put his bee suit over top. I attached some of the boo BEES to his suit and net and attached some of them to my t-shirt as well. (It’s the worker boo’s job to protect the queen.)

I put on some white face paint to look more ghost-like and my husband picked up some Bit-O-Honey candies for me to pass out.

IMG_3364

Here we are at the party on Friday evening.

IMG_3365

Our neighbor, Maggie, won first place for her wonderful witch costume. My husband won second place a $25 gift certificate and, to my surprise, I one third place a $25 gift certificate as well.

I love that we were able to put a Halloween spin on something that we do in our daily life and were able to create the costumes at little expense. The only money we actually spent on these costumes was the $3 for my t-shirt and a few $ for the Bit-O-Honey candies.

We enjoyed a fun time with some of our neighbors but had to excuse ourselves as darkness fell and duty called. Once out of public eye the Boo Keeper mysteriously morphed into Chicken Farmer and rushed off to close the chickens in the coop where they would be protected from any dangers that were lurking in the darkness.

Note: This is  not an advertisement but years ago I discovered that I can often find t-shirts on sale for $3.00 or less at Joann Fabric. At that price it was worth stocking up so when the kids were in school I would keep a supply of these shirts in various colors. When the kids would come home from school needing a special color shirt for a school activity or project I usually had what they needed. These shirts are designed to be used for craft projects such as tie dye, painting, iron-on, cross stitch and more but are also suitable for wearing just as a regular t-shirt. I in fact have a few in my wardrobe.

I would love to hear your creative ideas for Halloween costumes. Have you ever added a ghostly or funny twist to something you do everyday? Have you made a clever costume out of things you have on hand? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Thanks for reading and Happy Halloween!

Our First Apple Crop

This has truly been a wacky year for food production at the farm. Some things that normally grow in abundance have floundered and some things that have never produced before have done well. Apples were among the crops that did relatively well this year.

We have seven young apple trees of various varieties that we have planted in the past six years, three of which we planted in April of 2011 before we even closed on the property. Each year the apple trees have had had at least some blossoms in the spring but they never developed into more than a few apples. Last fall, as an experiment, I put a small amount of wood ash around the base of three of the trees. This spring nearly all of the trees blossomed heavily so I am not certain how much effect the wood ash had.

In May, when the apple trees were in full bloom, we had several mornings of heavy frost. Since the frost damaged asparagus, rhubarb and grape leaves, I am still stumped that our apple trees were unaffected.

Our honey bees were more that happy to do their part in our apple production, flying from blossom to blossom and tree to tree collecting pollen from one blossom and redistributing a portion of it on the next blossom while they collected their pollen from that one.

IMG_2573
Honey bee – too busy to pose for a picture

Being our first apple crop we didn’t know what to expect and it seems that our apples fell victim to bugs, worms and disease.  Then to add insult to injury the crows  decided to make our apples part of their diet.

A couple weeks ago when my husband was tired of watching our apples being destroyed he decided to pick what might still be good before the crows got anymore. He first brought home a bag of red apples and since I was busy that day, probably cleaning garlic, I put them in the refrigerator and half forgot about them. A couple days later he brought home these golden delicious.

IMG_3223

He had been talking about dehydrating apples or making apple chips for a few weeks so I decided to use the useable part of these apple to make chips.

When I peeled the apples I was pleasantly surprised to see that the blemishes, which I have not positively identified but might be apple scab, were only skin deep. Once I removed the peel there was no evidence of disease.

IMG_3225

I peeled, cored and sliced the apples. I placed the slices in a single layer on my dehydrator trays. Each tray held about four apples.

IMG_3227

I filled up all nine trays and realized I had peeled way too many apples. So I needed to come up with a semi-quick or easy way to use the other half of those apples. Since fruit pies are a favorite dessert here and pie filling freezes well I decided to make apple pie filling.

I know that golden delicious apples are not necessarily a cooking apple so I was happy to find a recipe for pie filling that just called for apples instead of “cooking apples” or a specific variety of apples. Not that it would have mattered because I often change up recipes, substituting what I have on hand for what is called for in the recipe. Sometimes it turns out really well and sometimes not so good. The apple pie filling is in the freezer for now but I am certain that we will enjoy the apple pie that it makes.

The apple chips on the other hand are disappearing quickly. They make a nice snack.

IMG_3233

When I took them out of the dehydrator, after about 18 hours, I packaged each tray of apple chips in a sealable plastic sandwich bag. This way I know that the package contains about four apples or four servings. Then I put the bags in jars for storage. It is important to know an approximate serving size because these apple chips are so good that it could be easy to get carried away and eat way too many. I warned my husband that eating a whole bag at one time was not a good idea, and that you need to make sure you drink enough water when eating dried fruit. He told me that this was a lesson he learned as a kid – the hard way.

A few days ago when I was looking for a side dish to go with the stuffed green peppers I made for dinner, I came across the “half forgotten” bag of apples in the refrigerator.

IMG_3293
Stuffed Peppers

I decided to cook up some apple sauce. I didn’t need a recipe for this because I have cooked and canned apple sauce many times in the past. Although many of these apples had bites taken out of them (crows) and a few had worms in them, I was able to cut away enough of the bad parts and cook up a wonderful dish of apple sauce. To make apple sauce, after I peeled, cored and cut away any bad parts, I put the apples in a pan with a small amount of water. I brought it to a boil then turned it to low and let it simmer until the apples were very soft. I then mashed the apples with a potato masher. I then continue to let is simmer and thicken up a little. There was no need to add sweetener. I put it in a bowl and chilled it before dinner and it made the perfect side dish.

Over the next few months we will be researching natural options for controlling disease and insects on the apple trees with hopes of growing even better crops in the future, and who knows we might even build a scarecrow or two. https://www.todayshomeowner.com/scarecrows-in-the-garden/

Mystery Solved -Thank You Lisa!

Our Mystery Plant is a Mountain Mint.

https://garden.org/plants/view/78608/Narrowleaf-Mountain-Mint-Pycnanthemum-tenuifolium/IMG_3088This plant attracted my attention when I saw our honey bees heavily foraging in it. We are in a wildflower transition period where the blossoms on the Sweet Clover and Canadian Thistle are waning and the Golden Rod is just beginning to open. It seems the bees are foraging mostly on white clover which we have much of but we were happy to find something else that they loved.

IMG_3117

My husband and I searched all of our plant reference books and several online data bases and were unable to identify this plant. The plant had grown up in an area where we had planted a wild flower seed mix several years ago. So I decided to go to what I assumed was the source. The wild flower seed mix we planted was from American Meadows https://www.americanmeadows.com/wildflower-seeds . We first search their website and were unable to find any plant that resembled our mystery plant. I then decided to contact the company. I used the contact form on their website and included a picture of the plant I was trying to I.D. This was on Sunday. I received an automated reply that day saying they received my message and would try to respond within 48 hours.

My husband and I continued to search online wildflower data bases to no avail and on Monday I received an email from Lisa at American Meadows. She thought the plant in the photo was Yarrow. I replied immediately. At first glance the plant may look like Yarrow, but we also have Yarrow growing on the farm and there are several differences in the two plants. The flowers are different, but more noticeable is the difference in the leaf structure and I have never seen the bees visit Yarrow.

I sent Lisa a second photo of our mystery plant which showed the leaves more clearly. Lisa replied that same day. From this picture she could now see that the plant was not Yarrow. She could not identify the plant but if I could send a close up of the flowers she would “call in the troops” to help find our answer. On Wednesday I sent a couple more photos, described the light scent of the flowers and told her we lived in South-East Michigan.

Later that day I was surprised and excited to receive Lisa’s email. It read: “Success!

The plant is Mountain Mint, probably Pycnanthemum virginianum, which is the common species in Michigan. There is a related species that is much less common, called Pycnanthemum tenuifolium. The main difference is that P. virginianum has pubescent stems, whereas the stems of P. tenuifolium are glabrous (i.e., not hairy). I can’t see the stems well enough on your photos to tell whether the stems are pubescent or not.”

Lisa said her source of this information was a botanist here in Michigan.

I did an internet search and found photos of Mountain Mint and discovered that it was indeed what we had. I at first believed it was Pycnanthemum virginianum, the more common species. On Thursday after I read Lisa’s message a second time I began to question that. I didn’t remember this plant having hairy stems. On my next trip to the farm I confirmed this. The stems of our Mountain Mint are smooth. We have the less common of the two, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium. Common names for this plant are Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint,  Common Horsemint, and Slender Mountain Mint. My husband and I could not be more thrilled than to have this mystery solved. We will encourage this plant to spread and perhaps even propagate it.

This might go without saying but in a day and age where good customer service is hard to find I have to say that we greatly appreciate the help that we received from Lisa at American Meadows. She certainly could have determined that our plant was not something that came in the seeds we received from them an left us on our own. Instead she went the extra mile to help us solve the mystery. At this time we do not have a need to purchase wild flower seed but if we ever do we will return to American Meadows and perhaps if you decided to purchase wild flower seed you will consider them as well.

 

 

Pond Pictures – Relax and Enjoy

I know what it’s like, too often life gets crazy and busy and we just don’t have time to enjoy the simple beauty that nature has to offer. I try to take a least a few minutes each day to just walk and observe our farm. Today I invite you to join me for some views of our pond. If you were with me these are some of the things I would point out to you.

IMG_2876The honey bees have discovered that the lavender is blossoming. Honey bees and bumble bees love lavender.

IMG_2912

My husband and I agree that dragon flies are the coolest insects. We see them in various shapes and sizes and many amazingly beautiful colors. After reading more about dragon flies on this website http://www.dragonfly-site.com/ I’m not surprised at our fascination with them.

IMG_2905

This website about dragon flies mating was also very interesting, but definitely left me with questions. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-dragonflies-mate-1968255 My questions were mainly who studied this? and how did they study this?

IMG_2909

The dragon flies are not only fascinating to watch, they seem friendly, at times, as they rest on a finger or hitch a ride on a shoulder. They don’t bite or sting and they apparently dine on a lot of less desirable insects.

IMG_2894

The above photo, which my husband and I had been referring to as a dragon fly, is actually a damsel fly. Closely related to the dragon fly the damsel flies are also welcomed and admired on our farm.

IMG_2899

The honey bees are drinking from the pond. This one is coming in for a landing.

IMG_2896

Honey bees are our second favorite insect. We have put a lot of money, time and effort into beekeeping and we are happy to know that our bees have a clean water source.

IMG_2898

This year the bees are choosing to drink from an area on the edge of the pond, where we placed rocks last fall. In past years I have seen honey bees drinking on the beach and other areas along the shore.IMG_2901

Turtles, if you were with me you would see more. We have turtles of various sizes and ages who live in the pond, and I saw at least three of them on this day. Apparently turtles are camera shy because as soon as they saw me point the camera in their direction they would submerge and swim away.

IMG_2911Not at all camera shy, this handsome frog was the perfect model. No need to turn him into a prince; we love this little bug eater just the way he is.

This is but a glimpse of the things we would see and the things we would talk about as we spent some time enjoying the beauty of our pond. Thanks for taking a few minutes to relax and enjoy.

 

 

 

Five Hives

As of Monday, May 23 rd., we have five hives of honey bees.

We were working at the farm in the morning, my husband planting tomatoes while I was weeding the prayer garden and marshmallow garden https://donteatitsoap.com/2015/08/05/marshmallow-root/ . We took about an hour for lunch and decided to get right back at it. As my husband walked toward the field where he was going to start planting pepper plants I heard him say, “We have a swarm”.

IMG_2650

I grabbed my camera and walked in his direction. I saw the bees still getting themselves organized in an Autumn Olive tree. The way they were landing it looked like two separate swarms but by the time they had finished they had all come together as one large swarm.

IMG_2654

One of the nice things about the location of our apiary is that it is surrounded by trees so when it is time for a swarm of bees to move to a new location their first stop is usually in one of the nearby trees. The Autumn Olive which is in bloom right now is very fragrant and I don’t blame them for choosing this tree.

Swarming is how honey bees colonies reproduce. When the hive begins to become over crowded the bees produce a new queen. They do this by building special brood cells which are known as queen cells. The queen larvae is then fed exclusively on royal jelly. The old queen leaves the hive with the swarm of worker bees in search of a new location to call home. The new queen hatches, mates with the drones, and begins laying eggs in the hive.

One thing I want to point out is that if you come across a swarm of bees on a tree or other structure there is no need to panic. It is not necessary to have someone remove them, as these bees are in transition and will be gone soon. There is no danger if you simply avoid the area. That’s not to say that if you know a beekeeper you shouldn’t call them to see if they want to come get it, as they might appreciate the opportunity to start a new hive.

As the bees settled in my husband began preparing to capture them. Just like with hiving bees it is important to make sure that everything is in place before getting started. He already had a empty hive ready in anticipation of capturing a swarm. He opened it up and removed some frames from an area where he would dump the bees. He left the covers sitting nearby.

He got out a five gallon bucket with a lid and examined the tree. I reminded him this tree has thorns. He decided he would need to cut a lower branch off so he could get to the swarm. He put on his bee suit, but since he wouldn’t need my help I didn’t suit up. I would just watch and take photos.

IMG_2666

The battery of my camera went dead after this photo.

After he removed the branch he was able to put the bucket directly under the branch that held the swarm. He then shook the branch very hard and a large portion of the swarm dropped into the bucket. His objective at this point was to get the queen. He quickly covered the bucket and took it to the hive that he had ready.  He emptied the bucket into the hive and I imagine he said a silent prayer that the queen was amongst them. He placed the cover over the hive and went back for more of the bees who were gathering back on the limb. He again shook the branch so that another large amount of bees fell into the bucket, and he took them to the hive as well. After repeating this a third time he had captured most of the bees. When he placed the cover on the hive many of the bees which were flying around the outside began clustering on the hive. This was a good sign that the queen was inside.

It is now three days later and this hive seems to be functioning as well as the others. Worker bees are leaving the hive and coming back with bright yellow pollen. That is just what we like to see. 🙂