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Frogs on the Farm

“Frogs on the Farm” was originally written and published on March 30, 2017, a time when I had very few readers. I have decided to share it again today because for various reasons I haven’t got my usual “Spring is Springing” post ready. Be assured that spring is here: the birds have returned from their winter homes, the trees are beginning to bud, the daffodils, iris’s, lily’s and even the garlic are emerging from underground and the frogs are singing. More on that soon. ūüôā

Original Post published March 30, 2017

Last week on one of our sap cooking days, in addition to helping keep the fire going, I took on the secondary chore of raking the leaves out of the pond. As I came up with one rake full of leaves and shook them into the pile just beyond the beach, this frog hopped out of the leaves.

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I felt kind of guilty about awakening him or her, because I was yet to see or hear any frogs this spring. It did however spend a good deal of time sunning itself on the beach. It wasn’t until one of the chickens came running up behind it that it took¬†a three foot¬†leap back into the safety of the pond.

It was two days later that we heard the frogs for the first time this year. I remember my mom telling me, that her mom had told her, that after you hear frogs for the first time in the spring you will have three more freezes.¬†Although I’m always excited to hear the frogs in the spring, I haven’t really tested this theory.

Frogs and toads lived on our farm before we put in the pond. I remember the first spring there were tadpoles that had hatched in a puddle of water and my husband was dumping buckets of water in the puddle to keep it from drying up before the tadpoles reached their adolescent stage of life.

Our property does provide the perfect habitat for frogs and toads. The pond offers conditions needed for frogs to lay eggs, for the eggs to hatch into tadpoles and for the tadpoles to live until they grow legs and their lungs develop so they can leave the water. This can take over a year for bull frogs. Even mature frogs, who can live out of water, continue to need a wet area to keep their skin from drying out. Not only does our farm have the pond but we have wooded areas where the ground is covered with dead leaves that keep the ground moist even in the hot and dry summer conditions.

According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources article that I have linked below of the more than 3400 species of frogs/toads only 13 live in Michigan. I am certain we have at least 4 species that populate our farm.

Frogs and toads are wonderful for pest control. The aforementioned article relates that a single frog will consume thousands of insects per year. Last year we discovered that we were reaping the benefits of this.¬†As we picked¬†our bountiful harvest of strawberries ¬†https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/06/30/strawberries-at-last/¬†last June my husband and I spoke several times about the fact that we did not have any slugs eating the berries. This is a problem the we have had with strawberries we have grown at the house in the past. It wasn’t until my husband told me that he had been surprised by a frog hiding in the strawberry patch, while he was picking berries, that I realized that¬†this frog was probably enjoying a regular diet of slugs and any other pests that threatened¬†to consume our¬†strawberry crop. I am hopeful that a frog will take up residence in the strawberry patch again this year.

Frogs are a good indicator of the health of wetlands, ponds, lakes and such as they do not survive in polluted areas. The Michigan DNR article that I have linked below explains that chemical fertilizers and pesticides are a threat to frog populations; not only can the chemicals kills frogs and toads, but the pesticides also reduce their food supply.

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10370_12145_12201-35089–,00.html

The frogs on our farm are also entertaining. In the summer time when we walk around the edge of the pond the frogs jump into the pond one right after the next. It’s kind of funny because there may be 50-100 frogs sitting around the outer edge of the pond. The dogs like to chase the frogs but rarely are they able to catch them. Last year Scout spent hours in the evenings looking for frogs along the edge of the pond, he enjoyed the search immensely even though he never caught any. After dark¬†we are often treated to a campfire symphony, in surround sound I might add, as the several different species of frogs sing from different areas of the farm.

While not everyone has the luxury of being able to put a pond on their property I have included the following link for those who may be interested in creating a frog habitat. I would encourage you to read through the end of the article, as it does explain that the best way to introduce frogs to this habitat is to let them come to it naturally and this may take a year or more. It also explains that not all parts of the U.S. are favorable for creating frog habitats.

https://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/Gardening/Archives/2000/Want-to-Host-a-Garden-Party-for-Frogs.aspx

To Save The Bees (Part III) Provide Food

This is the final post in the series that was published in 2016. Click to see Part I or Part II. After reading it again I realized that I have discovered a few things since it was first published.

We have grown some more plants that I have observed the honey bees foraging on heavily. They include chamomile and chives which blooms in the spring, oregano which blooms throughout the summer, and spearmint, peppermint, chocolate mint and anise hyssop which all flower in late summer and fall, so these can be added to the others you will read about in the original post.

The other thing that I recently read and thought would be worth including with this post is that honey bees will only forage one type of plant during a flight. Knowing this it stands to reason that they would be foraging a type of plant that is plentiful in the area. Thus if you are planting with honey bees in mind it would be better to plant several of one type of plant than to plant only one of several types of plants.
I hope you enjoy the original post.

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Since we decided to become beekeepers I have read many recommendations about what to plant for the bees including the above picture. I feel very strongly that it is important for the health of the bees that they have a variety of foods (plants) to forage. Although it is not our only consideration when deciding what to plant, planting for the bees is something that we have been doing since we bought the farm and decided to become beekeepers.

Other things we take into consideration are:

1.¬†Is the plant annual or perennial? Except for food and herbs¬†we usually don’t plant annuals.

2. To know if a perennial will survive it is important to know the hardiness zone that you live in.  Some plants that are perennial will not survive the colder temperatures of our winter and some will not even grow long enough to blossom.

3. It is also good to know the growing conditions that the plant requires Рtype of soil, wet or dry, and sun or shade are all important considerations when deciding where to plant something.

4. I love things that have multiple purposes. So I consider other uses for the plant Рare they edible, medicinal, a good cover crop that will nourish the soil, or simply planted for their beauty ?

5. I also have to consider what critters will eat these plants before either we or the bees can benefit from them. I have found some plants that the deer and rabbits simply don’t bother with, yet there are many others that have to be fenced in order to protect them.

6. When planting for the bees, another thing to consider is the bloom time of the plant. It is good to have plants that blossom at different times of the year. Early spring is probably the time when the bees are most in need. As they emerge from their hives in the spring, their winter food stores are running low if not depleted, they need to be able to find food in order to survive.

What we have planted:

Lavender  was a plant of choice before we ever knew we were going to become bee keepers. I originally planted lavender at the house  because I loved the plant, loved the fragrance, loved the dried flowers that could be made into sachets, sleep pillows, tea, or infused into oil. I also add them to my chamomile/lavender soap. It was on the plants at the house that I first observed honey bees foraging and realized what a good bee plant it was. When we bought the farm, planting lavender was a no-brainer and it is now a large part of our prayer garden. Another thing that I appreciate about lavender is that deer and rabbits leave it alone.

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Our Prayer Garden

Thyme is also grown in our¬†prayer garden. It is a low creeping plant that makes a nice ground cover. It¬†has both culinary and medicinal uses. http://www.delallo.com/articles/thyme¬† Last spring, when the thyme was flowering, I noticed that the honey bees were all over it. I was happy to see this¬†because thyme essential oil is recommended as a natural¬†treatment for¬†varroa mites.¬†While I haven’t seen it written anywhere, my theory is that by feeding on¬†thyme, perhaps,¬†the bees can extract the thymol that is reported to be effective for controlling¬†the varroa mites, thus not requiring human intervention. ¬†Thyme is another plant that is not bothered by deer or rabbits. This year I will divide the roots and spread¬†thyme throughout the ¬†prayer garden.

Sage and Salvia are of the same family. This link provides a growing guide for the different types. http://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/guide-to-salvias/¬†¬†¬†¬†When planting sage/salvia it is important to note the hardiness zone for the variety you are planting. I have grown several varieties of sage. They grow well during the summer,¬†and I have¬†been able to harvest their leaves, but since they are not hardy in our (zone 6) growing area they have never blossomed and some have not survived our winters.¬†Since they do not flower they are not¬†useful to the bees. On the other hand I do have a salvia plant (I’m not sure what variety it is) that has beautiful purple spiked flowers in the spring and summer. I have had it for three years and the¬†honey bees love it. Salvia and sage seem to be plants that the deer and rabbits leave alone.

Basil – I have grown basil for many years. I use it fresh during the summer and dry it to have on hand year round. I pick the leaves off before it begins to flower and continue to pick them until I want it to flower and go to seed. Late last summer, when I let the basil plants flower, I noticed the honey bees were heavily foraging them.

 

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Sunflower  is one of the annuals that we grow. I can not speak for all varieties of sunflowers but our bees visit the Grey Stripe Mammoth   and black oil seed varieties often.

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Once you plant sunflowers, don’t be surprised if they come up voluntarily the following year in surprising places as these did. They always made me smile ūüôā

Coneflowers – Also know as Echinacea, known for it’s medicinal properties, is a plant that the bees also like.¬†http://www.gardenexperiments.com/echinacea-species-flowering-plants-for-bees-butterflies-and-birds/

Asters grow wild in our field. They blossom in the late summer and fall and last year we witnessed the bees feeding heavily on them.

Clover is the one thing that we plant most often, that is great bee food.¬†We sometimes use clover as a cover crop to nourish the soil for future crops,¬†but most often we use it combined with grass seed¬†when we landscape areas.¬†¬†Call me crazy, and you might if you’ve been paying a lawn care company to keep your lawn weed free, but I feel that white clover compliments the grass. It grows at a similar rate, it fixes nitrogen that helps the grass grow, and it is soft to walk on. I also like that if I mow the white clover when it is blossoming, it will blossom again.

Buckwheat –¬†Another plant that we have used as a cover crop that the bees seem to enjoy. Buckwheat makes a dark honey with a strong flavor. It also makes a good cover crop as it grows fast and is said to choke out competing weeds.

Last summer my husband and I were in the garden center department of one of the local home improvement stores. I was looking for more of the salvia plant that I have, but was unable to find any. We noticed honey bees visiting several different flowering plants. You should probably know that for me going to a garden center and not buying plants is almost like going to the Dairy Queen and not buying ice cream. I absolutely hate shopping and the only exception is going to a green house or garden center. I could spend way too many hours and way too much money in these places. That being said we ended up buying some of the plants that we saw honey bees visiting.

They included a Coreopsis also known as Tickseed.

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Tickseed

 

A Mallow

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Mallow

and a Balloon Flower that I don’t have a picture of. After planting these in¬†our prayer garden I didn’t notice any bees on them. I suspect that there were so many other things blossoming in the area that the bees did not pay any attention to these flowers. Thus, the lesson I take from this¬†is¬†that my focus should be on sticking to what we already have. I will add more lavender, (I started some by seed)¬†I will divide the thyme and let it spread, and perhaps I will divide my salvia in order to have more plants.¬†I will cherish the clover, the asters and the golden rod that grow wild in our field, and I will not curse the thistle (much).

2020 update – While the mallow plant pictured above did not come back the following year, the balloon flower has continued to grow but I have never observed bees on it. The tickseed has continued to grow and spread and last summer I often saw bees foraging it.

Will you be doing any planting this year? Have you observed bees foraging on specific plants in your area? I would love to hear from you.

Happy Planting! ūüôā

 

To Save The Bees (Part I) Do Nothing

This post was originally published in 2016 and again in 2018 but since I have many new followers since it was last posted I thought it was worth repeating. Thanks for reading.

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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 https://savebees.org/ 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 that in a separate post, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Filtering Bees Wax

This post was originally published in 2016.

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Honey Comb Inside A Warre’ Top Bar Bee Hive.

To clean the bees wax that we harvest with the honey from our hives I have seen and read about several methods. I first tried what I thought would be the easiest, which involved boiling the wax in water, allowing it to cool and then scraping all of the non-wax particles off the bottom of the hardened wax, it was exactly the way I would render lard or tallow.¬†I was not happy with the results of this method for cleaning wax. I found that scraping the particles off the hardened wax was difficult, and it took several times repeating the whole process to get the wax as clean as I wanted it. The wax also lost¬†it’s sweet bees wax fragrance.

I next decided to try one of the filtering method that I read about. I will start by saying that all of the pans and utensils that I use when working with wax are dedicated to working with wax. Once it is there the wax is extremely difficult if not impossible to wash off.

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I always start by rinsing the wax. Today my husband did this for me. The wax was in a five gallon bucket that has small holes drilled in the bottom. He took it outside and ran water from the garden hose though it until it seemed like most of the honey was rinsed out. I then just let it drip for a while.

There are two important things I will point out about rinsing the wax. The first one is never rinse the wax in the house. Beeswax is a very hard substance, its melting point is about 147 degrees Fahrenheit. A drain clogged with beeswax could be a very expensive fix.  The second is that once the wax is rinsed and drained as much as possible, it should be cleaned or filtered right away. If it is not possible to filter it within a few hours, I freeze the wax. The reason for this is that the wet wax will grow mold. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way last year and ended up throwing away quite a bit of wax.

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To melt the beeswax I use a double boiler or two old pans that stack together (again they are only used for this purpose). I put water in the bottom pan and the wax in the top pan. I heat the water and let it boil the water until the wax is melted.

IMG_1338When the wax is completely melted the non-wax particles can be filtered out. To do this I use a strainer lined with several layers of cheese cloth.

The strainer fits nicely into this old ceramic crockpot insert that I picked up cheaply at a Salvation Army thrift store. I pour the wax through the cheese cloth into the ceramic pot and then pour the filtered wax into some of my soap molds.

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As the wax hardens it looks like this.

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When it is taken out of the mold it looks like this. Some of the bars may still have some dark spots in the and will go through one more cycle of melt and filter.

 

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While I always use news paper on the counter, when working with wax, I have learned that the finished bars should not be placed directly on the newspaper because the ink will transfer from the paper to the wax.

I have read that one pound of beeswax holds 22 pounds of honey. These numbers are very close to the amounts of honey that we harvested and the wax that I filtered. Most of this wax will be used to make my balms and some may be used to make candles.

Not to have any of this valuable wax go to waste, we have begun using the cheese cloth, that is now coated with a wax film, as fire starter in the fire place. It works wonderfully.

Thanks for reading. ‚ėļ

This Season On Chicken TV

Chicken TV – has become a spring/summer past time for us. That’s what we call the time we spend sitting in our camp chairs near the chicken coop watching the chickens as they peck and scratch and do what chickens do. It’s usually the last half hour or so before the chickens go in for the night. It really can be quite entertaining especially when they are young.

Our Buff Orpingtons are the friendliest of the four breeds that we have and Honey one of our oldest hens will usually sit on my husbands lap. Last year some of buffs that we raised as chicks would also sit on our laps or climb on our shoulders while we sat and watched the group.

This year we have decided not to get attached to the buffs that we are raising¬†since we intend to butcher them before long. We didn’t hold or pet them even when they were¬† adorable little balls of fluff.

Saturday evening my husband got out my chair and put it near the chicken coop. He then asked for my camera and told me to sit down. I sat in my chair and before long I had chickens on my lap.

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“Close your eyes,” my husband warned me, “they will peck your eyes.”

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So while I sat there with my eyes closed, my husband snapped pictures and counted as each of the young buffs landed on me.

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Within about two minutes I played roost to all 10 young buffs and had become the star of Chicken TV.

My husband knew this was going to happen because he had the same experience the night before when I was not with him.

I don’t mind one or two chickens sitting on me but this was way too much, so he helped me clear them off and the he went about teaching them to use the ramp to get into the coop.¬† They were just about there but one just couldn’t resist saying a special good night to him.

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