Checking in with the bees

Well this summer is just flying by. It was with a bit of disbelief that I realized July ended already- Where did it go??

In the midst of soccer games, campfires, work, lawn projects and gardening- we are still keeping up with the new bee hives. They’ve been busy as, well, bees in their hives. We did a check for varroa mites in mid-July and were delighted to find no sign of infestation. For this, we used corrugated grid boards coated in petroleum jelly slid into the groves in bottom board. Lots of pollen and bee debris, but no sign of mites yet!

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We did a quick check of the supers last week and saw that they have steadily made their way to the top frames, filling them in with gorgeous golden honey!!! The plan is to add another layer of supers to the hives this week while we finish up work on the honey extractor.

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Summer knitting

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Do you knit in the summer? It almost seems contrary to me to be working in the heat of summer on projects made of warm, fuzzy fiber- but sometimes the urge to knit cannot be ignored, no matter the season!

I’ve started a small little project for one of the kids, and while it isn’t ready to show you yet, I wanted to share a bit about the wonderful woman responsible for producing the yarn I am using. Her name is Janet and the yarn has been spun from the animals she raises at Timber Creek Farm (check them out at http://timbercreekfarm.blogspot.com/ ).

To learn about how this fantastic yarn was processed, read her latest post: http://timbercreekfarm.blogspot.com/2013/06/singletons-fiber-processing-where-our.html

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Fire in the hole!

Now that our kids are getting a bit older and spending more time playing outdoors and generally hanging around in the yard, we decided it was time to make a few upgrades to the yard to make it more “fun” for them, and well for us too. Thinking back to our childhoods we both had fond memories of camping and hanging around with our parents at friendly campfire gatherings- something we have not really done with the girls. So it was decided- time to build a fire pit!

Like most other projects around here, the main requirement was that it be inexpensive. We set a budget of $100 and got started. To begin, we chose an open flat space in the lawn away from trees and other brush, then measured out a circle. After digging in and removing all the sod, my husband used a flat edge shovel and a large rake to dig out a smooth, level surface area. Next we went on the hunt for a tire rim to use as the lining for the pit, to help prevent the surrounding brick from overheating and cracking. Luckily, I found one for free holding down some old wood at my parents farm.

Next, we needed bricks to build the sides of the pit and to landscape the larger circle around it. I remembered a pile of bricks I had salvaged when we first moved in and had removed an old chimney and had lain under a huge rhododendron. I don’t like to think about the number of spiders and other insects I discovered in and under that enormous bush as I crawled under it and hauled out the bricks. We used them to create the first layered ring around the tire rim, which was sunk Into the ground about 3 inches. Sadly, most of my salvaged bricks were cracked and discolored so we decided not to use them for the more visible parts of the project. A trip to Home Depot found stacks of bricks at only 35cents a piece, so we loaded up.

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Next up, a few bags of paving sand to fill in between the pattern of bricks and level out the ground more.

I wanted something that would be fun and really personalize this area for our family, so decided to make our own concrete stepping stones to use to fill in the large circle around the pit. We divided the circle into 4 sections and each made 3 stepping stones for “our” sections. The girls thought this was really fun and I let them use their stones, shells, marbles, etc to decorate each one. We also each made one “handprint” stone and I made one with the year inlaid with small pebbles.

Making your own stepping stones is so easy: you need a bag of Quickcrete, some forms, plastic to line the forms, and water. I use old springform baking pans for making mine- the release on the pan makes it really easy to pop the dried stones out. Just follow the mixing instructions on the Quickcrete bag.

Once all 12 stepping stones were finished, we placed them in the paving sand and then added a few bags of landscaping rocks to fill in the entire area.

We had some old white plastic stacking lawn chairs that were beyond help with stains, but a few cans of plastic bonding spray paint gave them new life.

Now it’s time to stack some firewood, stock up on s’mores supplies, and enjoy summer evenings with family, friends, and some great campfire chatter.


The Bees are here!

Today, We installed bees into our first hives…what an incredible experience!!!

The call came to pick up our nucs (nucleus colony) last week, so we headed out early Friday morning to meet a local beekeeper/supplier. There in his bee yard I watched, feet frozen in place, as he opened a nuc box to show us the bees inside. I didn’t even think to bring my bee suit, but realized in seconds that he didn’t need one either as the bees paid no attention to us at all. Nucs closed back up, we loaded our two colonies of Italian carniolan hybrid bees and headed for the hives. Because of a sudden cold snap with frosts over the weekend, our bee guy recommended we wait to do the transfer until the freeze danger had passed in order to not cause damage to our new bees.

It was a long, impatient weekend, but the weather finally broke and we donned our new suits and veils, lit the smoker, and headed to the hives.

I can hardly describe how surreal it felt when we opened up those nucs and very slowly started moving each frame covered in hundreds, maybe thousands, of bees into the new hive bodies! As I looked down at my gloves covered in bees, I realized that while yes I was nervous I wasn’t actually afraid.. Using a small hand tool to grip each frame, we would lift it up, give it a quick look to try and spot a queen, and gently lower it into the hive body. We didn’t find the queens, but the frames looked good and filled with brood cells like described in many beekeeping books. I had to pause a few times when the buzzing got exceptionally loud just to check that the bees I saw in front of my face were still on the outside of my veil…. Phew!!!!!

I cannot stress enough how good it felt to have a good quality veil between me and the bees. I opted for the jacket and veil that zips and velcros onto the jacket. I know it’s going to happen, but I am happy to report that I didn’t get stung once! Unfortunately, my fellow beekeeper got stung once- but we figure that was still pretty amazing for our first time out.

I am so excited to begin this new adventure!

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Recycled gazing ball

Spring is off to a busy start and since our main summer project is to really clean up the yard and create a more family friendly space I’ve been getting started with the basics of raking and clearing up garden beds etc. After removing the layer of leaves from the “kids flower bed” (the one I always leave for the girls to choose flowers for planting each year in whatever fashion they wish) I found myself again wishing for some cool garden ornaments to dress it up and make it more fun for them. I can say that in the 13 years that I have had flower gardens I have purchased exactly ONE garden ornament- a colorful ceramic owl. I love the idea of them, but always feel like I need to spend my limited garden budget on actual plants…

Today I was thinking GAZING BALL… and that’s when I remembered the cracked bowling ball in the closet waiting for the spring haul-out to the dump. “The Beast” is the name stamped on this ball, and my husband has had it longer than he has known me.

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I just happened to have (because I am obsessed with it) a can of Rustoleum Mettalic spray paint in copper on hand…

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Turned out pretty great, I think. I’m going to apply a clear coat of sealant paint to keep it shiny I think. My daughter giggled like crazy when she looked at the back of it and saw the silly “the beast” logo- we will just keep that side facing the back!

Ok, on to the next lawn project. ūüôā


Sparkly Easter Eggs

Little girls and Easter = sparkly things around here, and this time we are doing glitter eggs to decorate with.
The supplies are basic: eggs, Elmer’s craft glue, water, glitter, paintbrush, some plastic containers or bowls, and some type of stand for the eggs to dry on. We used upside down egg cartons for this.

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First, you will need to blow out your eggs, which I did over the course of the week. With a very sharp, and very clean, needle (I used a #1 knitting needle) poke a hole into each end of the egg- making the hole at one end slightly larger. You can get fancy and use a baby aspirator, or just good old lung power to force air through the egg and the insides out the larger hole (this is what I did).
Be sure to rinse the empty shells with water and blow out to dry.

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In a small bowl mix some Elmer’s craft glue and water¬†to thin the glue. Using a paint brush, coat your eggshell in the glue mix. Then carefully cover by sprinkling with glitter, covering as much surface as possible.

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Set aside to dry. We used an upturned egg carton to balance the wet eggs on. Once dry, touch up any bare spots with a spot of the glue mix and more glitter, then let dry again.

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Once ours were good and dry with the¬†second coat, I added string to each egg by tying a good size knot onto one end of a thick string (or yarn, or thin twin), then carefully¬†pushing the knotted end through the larger hole¬†of the egg, and tying a loop onto the other end to use for hanging. We hung ours on a “tree”¬†I have on a sideboard in the dining room made from branches spray painted white.

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I am really pleased with the finished product of this project, and the kids had a lot of fun with this new way to decorate eggs for Easter.

Have a happy and blessed Easter!


Egg-cellent!

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Ten months ago we started our little coop with eleven chicks, and today we finally found ELEVEN eggs!
Just in time for Easter, too. I’ve got a lot of colored eggs and deviled eggs to get cooking.


We’re a-buzz with prep for spring

We’re still seeing snow here, but that hasn’t stopped me from taking the plunge into spring and placing an order for our first colonies of honey bees!¬† They’ll be ready to pick up and install at the end of May, which means I am just buzzing around (hardy har¬†har) getting ready to order hives, suits, and all the other necessary equipment to get started.¬† There is much to learn and research before diving into a project such as beekeeping, and I’ve written an article about the basics for the newest issue of From Scratch Magazine.¬† ¬†(“The Buzz on Beekeeping”, page 78.)¬† Check it out- I would love to know what you think of it, and the magazine in general!

20130327-213719.jpgIt is quite an honor for me to be included along with this group of contributors, all of whom are full of knowledge on all topics of homesteading and living sustainably.


The buzz on From Scratch

If you are looking for a great source for homesteading information to help with your gardening, chicken keeping, crafting, repurposing projects- be sure to check out From Scratch Magazine.

The first issue featured my article on alpacas, and next week you can read all about another venture I am preparing to get started in, along with helpful information on CSA’s and the history of homesteading.

The magazine features a lot of interesting folks who really know their stuff. “Bee” sure to check it out!

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Mending things

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I have an old wicker basket in my house where we toss items “to be mended.” That sounds like such a quaint word- mended. Do you mend items for your family?
Sewing is not a skill that I would generally make mention of. I have the basic “sew a button back on” skills and that’s about it. One Christmas my parents gifted me with a¬†sewing machine…and while I have on occasion used it, it rarely sees daylight other than for quick bang-up costume jobs at Halloween.
It’s not for lack of interest actually-¬†I am in love with the idea of sewing. My Pinterest¬†boards are full of adorable little dresses and projects to make for my girls… but it’s unlikely they’ll ever appear in reality. I’ve tried. There’s a bin¬†in the closet full of scraps from the fabrics I bought to make dresses for the girls. I once produced a sundress¬†that my oldest actually wore to church a time or two. I can hardly pass up a good sale on patterns and have a box full- some still unopened and far too small to even fit my children any longer.
Sewing just doesn’t work out for me. It’s just one of those things. I can see the dress, read the pattern, cut the pieces…but they never come together right. I can’t sew¬†a straight seam to save my life. It’s hugely disappointing really… Dashing my visions of happy “farm girls” playing outside in the super cute homemade dresses that their thrifty mom has crafted…. Not happening here.
Despite her many efforts to teach me the skill, I still show up at my mother’s door with handfuls of pants to be hemmed. Sorry, mom.
I will stick to the mending. It makes me feel good-¬†picking up a needle and thread and “saving” something from the ¬†rag bin. These are packs of needles I scavenged from my grandmothers basket when she passed away. It thrills me to think that something so old can still be so useful. Most of my sewing kit is from what was left behind in her basket- little sewing implements that I don’t even know the use of, but keep just in case.

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I know it can be done better, that there is probably an actual “method” to properly stitch up a seam, replace a button, and close up a hole… but I get it done and wearable, and I figure that’s what counts. Plus, the kids think its cool when I fix their favorite shirt or “save” one of their stuffed toys. Mom and her sewing basket to the rescue!

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What do you think? Is “mending” a lost art?¬† I hope not.¬† I like to think of it as one of the ultimate green-skills that we can use and teach to our children-¬†how to FIX something rather than toss it.¬† We live in such a “just trash it” culture, where it is so easy to throw out clothing because of small flaws and cheaply replace it with a new one, it can be hard to convince people that¬†“mending” is still worthwhile.¬† Sure, there are times when there is just no saving a pair of pants with completely blown-out knees, but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely without life!¬† Just this winter I stopped myself from tossing one of my husband’s sweaters that had begun to unravel despite my efforts to stitch¬†up a seam.¬† Two nights before Christmas I was thinking that I wish I had just “one more thing” to add to the kids’ stockings, and I remembered that sweater I had just pulled out of his closet to get rid of.¬† I cut it up, got out my sewing basket and fabric scrap bucket, and a few hours later had made 2 of these goofy little stuffed owl dolls for the kids out of odds and ends.¬† They LOVE them! I even found buttons from my grandmother’s old stash to use as eyes.¬† They are certainly not “perfect,” but that’s kind of the point.¬† Things don’t always have to BE perfect.¬†¬† The buttons don’t always have to match.¬† The stitches don’t always have to be straight.¬†¬† Sometimes, a little mending can make things just good enough.

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