Tag Archives: Homesteading

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 – type 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 – are 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 🙂

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! 🙂

 

55 Things #10 – The Moon

Click here to learn more about my “55 Things” and here to view previous posts in this series.

The nearly full super moon was only intermittently visible through last night’s cloud cover. It is the first of three super moons that we will see this spring. The March full moon is also known as the worm moon, named this by Native Americans, since this is the time of year that worms begin emerging from the ground. Learn more about it here.  I attempted to take some photos but since my photography skills’ are lacking they are not nearly as impressive as it seeing it in person.

The following photos are unedited and are posted in sequence as taken. I am not sure what happened in the second photo, but while I would like to think that I captured some stunning other-worldly event, I suspect there is some type of technical explanation.

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While the actual full moon will occur tonight (March 9) the thick cloud cover will prevent us from viewing it. I guess I will have to try again in April.

This awareness of the full moon did remind me of a gardening method that we have talked about trying in the past but have not yet done. Since we have not yet started planting, I think this is the year to try planting by the phases of the moon.

This article from explains what types of plants should be planted during each phase of the moon.

  • First quarter moon cycle (new moon to half full) – Things that are leafy, like lettuce, cabbage and spinach, should be planted.
  • Second quarter moon cycle (half full to full moon) – Planting time for things that have seeds inside, like tomatoes, beans and peppers.
  • Third quarter moon cycle (full moon to half full) – Things that grow underground or plants that are perennials, like potatoes, garlic and raspberries, can be planted.
  • Fourth quarter moon cycle (half full to new moon) – Do not plant. Weed, mow and kill pests instead.

The article also says that while several studies have shown evidence that gardening by the phases of the moon can have positive effects there is no actual proof that it does.

In order to at least start planning for planting I found this handy chart which tells the date of that the moon enters each phase throughout the year. Planting season will begin soon. 🙂 Wish us luck.

Did you get to see the full moon? Have you ever planted by the moon?

Thanks for reading.

 

Winter Farm Update

Perhaps this post should be sub-titled “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” because we have seen a bit of each this winter.

Chickens

The chickens mostly fall in good category. Egg production slowed down in late November as usual and we were only getting 2-4 eggs a day, but as the hours of daylight have been getting longer egg production has been gradually increasing. We are now gathering between 7-10 eggs a day. We had more than enough eggs for us, so we didn’t have to buy any this winter. The lack of snow this winter has made the chickens happy because they tend to stay inside when there is snow on the ground.

The bad, or at least sad, part is that our rooster died on Thanksgiving. He was one of three birds left from our first batch of chicks we got in 2013. Toward the end of summer we noticed that old age seemed to be catching up to him, so we were not surprised by his death. So far the flock seems to be doing well without him. I was never especially close to Cocky because he seemed to feel that he had to protect his flock from me. I did learn, after being spurred in the leg by him a couple times, not to turn my back on him. We sparred many times over the years, but I did respect him as protector of our flock. While I don’t miss having to look over my should when I’m in or around the chicken yard, I do miss hearing his Cock-a-doodle-do’s.

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Cocky and Honey

Bees

Bees fall into the UGLY category. At the end of summer we had eight hives most of which seemed to be thriving. Over fall and winter we have lost all of them. We are baffled as to why the bees are dying. Every hive has had lots of honey in it, the hives have top ventilation to prevent moisture build up and our winter temps haven’t even been that cold so it doesn’t make sense that they are freezing to death. Some even died before temperatures got cold.

It is sad and it is frustrating to have so many losses, but we have decided not to give up yet. We have ordered three more packages of bees to arrive in May so we can try, try again.

Garlic 

At this time it seems that the garlic falls into the good category. The new location seems to be good since despite lots of rain and snow melt we have not had any flooding in that area.

The main reason that I am including garlic in this update is because several readers were interested in knowing how the weed guard that we used when planting the garlic worked out. (You can read about it here.)  Unfortunately it did not work out as we hoped it would. All was well until after the first big snow storm in early November. We then had a warm up, and as the snow melted, the weed guard became saturated. Then we began seeing rips in it. It seems the wind was getting under the exposed edges and ripping the wet paper. It became so tore up that we ended up removing it completely and mulching the garlic with straw before the ground froze.

If we use this product in the future we now understand it is important to make sure all of the edges are secured – perhaps by burying them in the soil.

Hoop House

This is another one for the good column. This new addition is currently under construction. It has come a lot farther since this photo was taken last week. Our plan is to have it ready so we can start our garden plants in it this spring. I plan to write a post on it’s design and construction once it is complete and will likely write about it’s uses in the future as well.

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The Boys

The boy’s also fall into the good category. Most of our time at the farm this winter has been spent with the boys, more specifically training Ranger.  This pup has so much energy that it is important that he get out and use it up. We have found that he requires a minimum of two hours a day outside, but on most day it’s three or more hours of walking, running and hunting.

We have been using a training collar that has three settings – a beep, a vibrate, and a shock. The collar, along with voice commands, is working well with training him to stay on our property, but it is going to take a lot more training and time before he can be trusted not to leave the farm. Beagles have a strong hunting instinct and if they pick up the scent of a rabbit or other small animal (there are many on our farm) it is difficult to call them off.

We are not hunters so we will not be training to hunt rabbits or squirrels.

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He and Trooper do enjoy hunting for field mice together. This is something that Scout and Trooper would do for hours at a time and we are happy that Ranger has become Trooper’s new hunting buddy.

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Watching the boys hunt mice can get a bit boring, but it is interesting to observe how they work together.

Trooper who is mostly a watch dog uses both his nose and eyes for hunting.

IMG_6222Ranger, who is a hunting dog, primarily uses his nose.

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So while Ranger has his nose buried in the dirt trying to sniff out his prey Trooper might capture it as he sees it trying to escape.

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Now what do I do with it?

After consulting with our vet we did have the boys immunized against diseases that they could catch from mice.

I think it is largely as a result of all this outdoor activity that Ranger has become such a great house dog. While at home is is content to settle into his or our bed for a nap, or he might seek out a little cuddle time from one of us. If he does get bored he will find a rawhide to chew on or bring his ball for a game of catch. He does however let us know when it’s time to get out a expend some of the built up energy.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to put him to the test. We needed to go grocery shopping so thought we would see how well he would behave if we left him out of his crate for a couple hours while we were away. Our strategy was to make sure he was tired out first, so my husband took the boys to the farm for about an hour before we went shopping. Before we left for shopping we also made sure that some of the things that might be tempting to a puppy (shoes, slippers, books) were out of his reach.

We were so happy when we returned home and found the house in the same condition that we left it in. The Boy’s, especially Ranger, were rewarded with lot’s of “good boy’s” and another nice long walk (run, play, hunt) at the farm. We have since left him  on three more occasions and have come returned home each time to find that he was a “Good Boy”. 🙂 It may be time to get rid of the crate.

Thanks for reading.

How has your winter been so far?

 

 

55 Things #6 – A Sweet Treat

Click here to learn more about my “55 Things” series and here to view previous posts in this series.

With Valentines Day just around the corner I thought I would share my secret candy recipe with you. Up until this point it is only a secret because I have not told it to anyone so now my secret will be out.

If you are a chocolate lover like me then you probably get excited when you hear or read reports about the health benefits of chocolate (cocoa) – right up to the point that they add something like “but all that sugar (and potentially other ingredients) in that candy bar are still bad for you so be sure not to eat too much”. 😦  What a let down!

So I decided to make my own chocolates using what I believed to be better ingredients.

Here’s my recipe:

1/2 cup dark cocoa

1/2 cup raw honey

1/2 cup cold processed coconut oil

Since coconut oil has a melting point of 76 degrees F (24 C) I put the whole jar in a bowl of hot tap water to melt. I then measure the amount of liquid oil I need and pour it into a bowl. I add the cocoa and honey and stir until they are combined. The mixture will be smooth and as the coconut oil cools it will become firmer. I line a pan or plate with wax paper and drop by teaspoon on the wax paper. I then pop them in the frig or freezer for a while. Once they are set I remove them from the wax paper and store them in a dish with a lid in the frig (because coconut oil melts at 76 degrees room temperature might be too warm for them).

To change it up a bit raisins, dried cranberries, coconut or chopped nut can be mixed in.

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I won’t make any claims about these being healthy but if you research the ingredients you can draw your own conclusions. I will tell you that they are rich in flavor and have a creamy texture that melts in your mouth. Yum!!! I also find that just one is enough to give me my chocolate fix.

I haven’t really given them a name but the first time I made them my husband told me they looked like turds so I told him they would be “the best s**t he ever ate”. 🙂

Are you a chocolate lover?

 

 

There Was A Farmer Had A Dog…

And Bingo Ranger was his name-er.

While Ranger is the name we gave him, it seems The Pup has already acquired a few nick names.

Maybe you already guessed the first one is The Pup or Pup. This one just seemed to come natural. He looks like a puppy and acts like a puppy and I often find myself referring to him as The Pup. Sometimes when talking to him I call him Pup as well.

More often when addressing him I find myself calling him Mister. I’ve noticed my husband does this as well. I think I began calling this because when he sits down and looks at me he looks like a little gentleman.

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As we know looks can be deceiving, hence another nick name. It was pretty early on when I began calling him Dennis, as in Dennis the Menace. He has that type of personality. Young, cute, innocent, always wanting to be right where we are and finding ways to get into trouble. He can be lovable and annoying at the same time. If Ranger is Dennis I think Trooper is his Mr. Wilson. LOL!

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The other nick name he has is Zippy. This is what my husband calls him, which refers to both his energy level and his speed. This one may get a little confusing because my husband had called Trooper Zippy since he was young. As a young dog Trooper had the same type of energy and speed that we now see in Ranger.

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So it seems Ranger has become Zippy too or should I say Zippy Two. 🙂

Do you use nick names for family members or pets?