Sweet Delicious Honey…

Stephen and I went out to do our bi-weekly check on the bee hives.

I could clearly see why I was given advice to start out with at least two hives when entering into the field of beekeeping (rather than just one).  In early July, I added a honey super to each of our hives.  The first hive I checked this weekend was slowly filling up the added super frames, but had a ways to go.  The second hive had completely filled up the honey super!  What a difference!  Both hives are next to each other and thus have the same forage, yet one hive had filled a honey super and the other had not.  I added a second super to the one hive and will head out again this coming weekend to recheck the first hive.  I may need to do a little bit more investigation into the health of the colony and possibly move some brood from the well performing hive to the poorly performing hive to see if I can give them a bit of a boost.

While in the hives, we had to snag one frame of honey.  It was too irresistible!  We brought it back to the house and I uncapped it with a hot knife.  I then let gravity do the rest.  We ended up with about 2.5 lb of honey from that one frame.  Each honey super holds 10 frames, so that comes out to about 20-30 lbs of honey per super!  That is about on par with what I have heard is the “normal”.

Not sure if it is the abundance of forage (we have lots of clover and our neighbors have a field of native wildflowers) and the lack of chemical agricultural practices in the near vicinity, but this was about the sweetest tasting honey I have ever had!  No harshness, but smooth and sweet.  The kids have been literally begging for spoonfuls.

We have had several people ask if we will sell.  For the time being, we will probably only have enough for our immediate needs (we love honey!).  But, if I can get the bees to over-winter successfully, I do see myself expanding our hive count and attempting to split some hives next summer.  It all hinges on getting them to survive the harsh Minnesota winter 🙁

-Jeremy

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Project Dormers / Frame Up Attic

I have had my sights set on taking the week of July 4th off for a while now.  With nearly a full week, I went into the week optimistic that I could get the attic “rafters” (previously 16′ 2×4’s) properly reinforced, cut in and frame up our dormers, and install the metal roof on our house (along with several other farm items).  Now that we are a few days into the week, that may have been a bit much to bite, but with a hole in the roof, there is no turning back now!

Last week, Shelly and I spent our 15th wedding anniversary at Menards.  Romantic, I know 🙂  We did enjoy a nice lunch together and ended the evening with ice cream, so it wasn’t all bad.  And, yes, I know, cowboy boots and shorts don’t go together, but the goats don’t mind at all.

Saturday I made the first cut into our roof.  Like I said, there is no turning back now.  Even though I would not be getting to the dormer for a few days, I needed a way to get the longer lumber up there.  Our stairway to the attic was too tight to maneuver a 16 foot board up.

Once I had the hole cut, I started at the chore of reinforcing the roof.  When building the house they assembled the roof using 2×4’s.  Obviously, after a few Minnesota winters (80-90 years) it had not stood the test of time well.  The roof had noticeable sagging on all sides and I was beginning to get nervous each time it snowed last winter.  The last thing I needed was our roof to cave in on us.  Every snowfall not only brought on the chore of shoveling the driveway, but also the roof.  Shoring this roof up was a must if we wanted to make this home a safe place to raise our family.

To shore up the roof, I am running 2×8’s along side the existing 2×4’s.   I also ran 2×6’s along the floor that would give these new “rafters” something extra to rest on and transfer the load down to the foundation of the house.

Since the roof was sagging, I had to use floor jacks to square up the roof and remove the sag.  This wouldn’t have been so bad, but considering I was in a poorly ventilated attic, it was sunny outside, and it was 80+ degrees outside.  Later this week, the forecast is calling for a chance at 90.  Inside it felt like 150 degrees F.

As I shored up the roof, I added additional bracing throughout.

With all of the work involved in the attic, we still took some time to do a few other family activities.  Stephen received a bee keepers suit for his birthday the other week and it had been a few weeks since I had looked at the hives.  Testing the new suit turned out the be the perfect excuse (no pun intended). We added our first honey super to each hive.

We also had a night away from the farm, our first in over a year.  Due to the generous donation of time by our neighbors (to keep an eye on the animals) and our wonderful host and hostess (my parents), we were able to spend a night in their cabin on the lake.

The children (and adults) had lots of fun enjoying fireworks.  Grandpa made sure to have plenty of them on hand.

The kids were glued to the water both days, like flies on a cow.  They could leave it for a little while, but always went right back to it.

Happy 4th of July!!

-Jeremy and Shelly

 

 

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Bee Swarm Trap and Finally Some House Progress

After a few weeks of taking care of business outdoors, we are starting to again refocus our efforts on the house.  But before heading indoors, a few remaining items needed to be taken care of outside.

First up, bee traps..

After assembly, I placed an old clean sock soaked with lemongrass oil in the top bucket to act as an attractant.    The idea is that wild bees or bees that have decided to swarm will be attracted to the inside of the dry bucket at the top, with the help of the lemongrass oil, and set up home in there, rather than in the barn or some other inconvenient location.  Once bees are spotted living in the bucket, it can be lowered and the bees can be transferred to my conventional hive boxes (Langstroth Hives).

We also got our weekend barn cleaning done.  Part of that involved moving barn waste, straw, and cardboard to our garden, our first attempt at a no-till/dig, weed-free garden.  This method is also know as sheet mulching.  Almost one row complete.  The idea here is that the cardboard will act as a weed barrier and the manure will decompose and feed nutrients into the soil, feeding life in the soil and in turn creating happy and healthy plants.

Well, we have turned into “those people”…  Those people that have a nice garage but don’t park their cars in it (my bike would be the exception).  Instead, the interior of our garage currently looks like this:

It is mostly filled with stacks of flooring that we are in the process of refinishing.   It is a combination of the hayloft flooring we pulled out of our neighbors barn and flooring we were able to salvage from our house.

We are getting closer to getting our vehicles back in there, maybe next week?

The wood above still looks a little rough.  Once I get it installed, I will follow up with another two rounds of sanding and poly.

I think I found the key to getting these boards processed quickly!  I broke down and bought a wood planer at the suggestion of one of my brothers.  Putting aside the problem of the blades constantly “gumming” up with grime and old finish, this has turned out to be a much more efficient way to strip down old flooring, versus running them through the band sander.   The flooring is still a work in progress, sorted into three piles:

  1. Boards that have received their first coat of polyurethane.
  2. Boards that have been run through the planer and are ready for poly.
  3. Unprocessed boards.

Thankfully, the unprocessed boards pile has shrunk significantly!

So, what to do with the piles of wood shavings produced from the wood planer?  They raked up fairly easily and I placed them around our apple trees over the wood chips.

I had set out with a goal of getting the metal ceiling tile up in our mudroom/laundry room over the weekend.  Success!  No more popcorn ceiling to welcome us as we step into our home!

The ceiling now matches our walls 😛

Up next, appropriately sized windows for our living room and bedroom.  And.. what do we have going on here?!

-Jeremy

 

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Never a Dull Moment

The homesteading life is never dull.  Here are a few memorable and random moments we captured on camera this past couple of weeks. They represent a sliver of the amalgamation that is our lives.

Even when they are not present, they manage to leave their markings.  This is what I found when blindly reaching into my screw box while working on the barn…  I guess, better here than under my foot, although this was not quite the look I was going for.

Cycling is one of my passions.  I managed to sneak out for a quick gravel ride while the rest of the family was at a birthday party.  Something wasn’t feeling quite right, so I stopped to check it out.  Can you spot what’s wrong?

No doubt, a day they will not soon forget…

Well, they finally did it.  It was probably inevitable..  Our fences were secure.  Our gates were locked up tight.  But, that didn’t stop our furry troublemakers.  The goats managed to knock over these concrete slabs that blocked the exit to our barn gutter.  They then proceeded to climb through (not sure how Bella made it through) the small gutter hole and out the barn to sample every flower, raspberry plant, and tree in sight.  So the game begins, with the ball now in my court.  Game on, goaties!

This is from one of my commutes home from work the other week, on [pedal] bike.  If this isn’t motivation to pedal hard, I’m not sure what is.  Yes, those are bee hives, maybe 60-70 of them, on a public road!  And yes, they are full of bees.  No stings, but some close calls as a few got trapped in the holes of my helmet.

While this picture was not taken from our farm, a similar one will be this June/July!  Meet Angel, a Yak we are purchasing from a farm in southern Minnesota.  Yes, I said Yak 🙂

-Jeremy

 

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Sprained ankle, snowmen, bees, and windows, scratch that… A window!

After a few weekends interrupted by work, we have returned to a bit of normalcy, and progress at home!

Last weekend we had some friends over.  He brought his chainsaw (thank you for your help!)!!  Time to cut some more wood.  Somehow I still find it enjoyable, even thought every inch of my body hurts after I am done.  We took down a few large dead trees, including a very sizable maple that was hung up in a pine and oak tree.  I’d say that was about the toughest tree I have ever had to take down.  It took us a while, but we got it, only one sprained ankle later.  Thankfully, it must have been a minor enough sprain that I was back to walking normal after a few days.  

We finally put up our second goat paddock (you can also see a bit of our firewood in the background).  This will be a welcome addition to our farm.  We would like to get another up next year, allowing us to rotate our goats around three paddocks and help naturally manage parasite issues.

Winter made a surprise comeback last Monday on our farm with a couple inches of snow.  Thankfully it melted that evening!  That didn’t stop the kids from enjoying it while it lasted!

This last weekend, we started out with a run to pick up our house windows.  Unfortunately, after waiting this long, they were the wrong size!!  We ordered 5 feet, 2 inch tall windows by 2 feet 6 inches wide.  What we got, well, 52 inches by 26 inches.  See the problem?  Yeah, sort of a depressing start to the weekend to say the least.  Thankfully our kitchen window was sized correctly, so we framed accordingly and installed the window above the sink.

As you can tell, the new kitchen window is a significant upgrade compared to the old and tiny window pictured above.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a finished picture of the new window just yet, so you’ll just have to wait to see it until the next post 🙂

Saturday morning, Stephen and I took off to Mann Lake, located in Hackensack, MN to pick up our bees!  We are fortunate enough to have one of the countries premier bee suppliers located only a little over an hours drive from our farm.

This is one of two bee packages we picked up.  Driving with several thousand bees in the back seat was a little intimidating at first, but I guess I just took each turn slowly, cautious not to let them tip over.  All it would take is that can on the top to slip out of the box and there would be bees everywhere.  You may think you are not allergic to bees, but it is a common fact that 500-1000 bee stings will kill any person, regardless of whether you think you are allergic or not.

I am sure that will be a road trip Stephen will never forget!

I put together a stand to get our hives above the grass and then introduced the bees and their respective queens to the new hive boxes.  It was amazing how calm the bees were for me once I gave them a few good sprays of sugar water.  They seem to have taken to their new homes.  I will need to check on them in a week to see how the hive building is going and to make sure the queen has started laying eggs.  For the most part, I will just get to let them do their thing now.  I should only need to check in on them every 10-14 days or so and make sure they haven’t outgrown their new space.  We also started putting together two bee traps, more on that later.

What else have we been up to?

Yes, I know, I jump all over the place.  With so many fun projects to tackle, how could I not!  I couldn’t resist!!  I had to put steel up on at least one barn wall.  We decided on the north chicken coop wall.

While I still need to install windows, re-roof this lean-to, and add additional length to the eaves, it at least gives us a glimpse of what we have to look forward to seeing out of our house windows.

Bonus!  Stephen has hit the project ready age!  While Shelly and I set the kitchen window, he was busy pulling apart this old deck on the side of the house!

-Jeremy

 

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Time Out in the Woods

Spring.  Mosquito free, comfortable temperatures, low humidity, the perfect trifecta of great outdoor family time.

First up, painting bee hives!  Last weekend, between Easter family gatherings with both sides, we finished assembling and painting our bee hives.  We are officially ready for the bees to arrive in two weeks!  Starting to get excited!!

I managed to sneak in one more small project over Easter weekend, cutting and installing crown molding in our bedroom.  In addition to the crown molding, we also officially put in the order for our bedroom, living room, and kitchen windows (and maybe some red steel for the barn walls)!  Bring on the natural light!  They all come with a three week lead time, so only a bit more patience required.

This week, we also started tackling some landscaping in the evenings.  Goodbye rock-beds, hello deep layered mulch.  Lets face it, kids and rocks don’t mix.  Lawnmowers+windows and rocks don’t mix.  Mulch retains soil moisture and decays over time, further enriching the soil.  Mulch will require layering additional mulch over the old layer each year, but in my opinion, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  Additionally, once we get the initial layer of mulch built up, we can maintain it in the future with free wood chips, pine needles, and grass clippings.

We planted several perennials purchased from area growers.  We are also growing some of our own from seed to transplant once it warms up a bit.  We have chosen several heirloom flowering varieties of perennials that our bees should love, along with useful varieties that are edible or medicinal like comfrey, rhubarb, and spearmint.  Our goal is to not only have a yard that is easy to look at, but to also serve a dual purpose as a food garden.

The past few weeks have been extremely busy at work, slowing progress a little at home.  I have been in the middle of several larger projects at work, bringing me to a total of 79 hours on the clock this past week.  Generally, I hate working this many hours as I feel it takes too much time away from my family, but we are doing our best to manage right now.

One of my engineering professors once said and bears repeating, “make sure you work to live, not live to work”.  He passed away a few years ago from cancer.  He no doubt made an impact on me and in turn, my family.  I am still trying to figure out exactly how to manage time at work and time spent at home.  They both are constantly at odds with each other and balancing the two can seem ever so elusive.  I’ll be the first to admit, I still haven’t figured this one out yet, but I am trying..  I do know that when I am on my deathbed, those moments spent at work will feel like time poorly spent and those moments with my family, precious and too few and far between.  This balancing act is never easy and I am sure many of you can relate.

With this in mind, we try to do many projects around our farm with the whole family involved.  This weekend (between work) was no exception.

Time for a family wood cutting day.  The whole family was involved and smore’s were the treat for a job well done.  The kids worked amazingly hard.  Stephen found the wheelbarrow and the younger kids filled the wagon, many times over, without complaint.  Shelly ran loads back and forth with the lawn tractor and trailer while I ran the chainsaw.

Three takeaways became evident during and after cutting wood.  Cutting wood for a day and several evenings in a row really wears a person out. The second, we have a lot of dead and fallen trees in our woods (we are only harvesting dead trees).  Hopefully after clearing out some of the dead, it will give the smaller saplings a better chance at thriving.  Third, I have no doubt one of the previous owners treated the woods as their own personal landfill.  Bag by bag, we are getting the trash picked up.  What a mess!

Several cords of wood put away with much more cut and waiting to be carried out, and even more left to cut…  We’ll get there!  There is no doubt our house will be warm for the next few winters!  Think of your winter heat bill, now multiply that by 2 or 3.  That is what we plan on saving over the next few years by cutting and stacking this wood.  This is not only a cheap and natural source of heat, but also insurance against the occasional winter power outage.

I’ll leave you with a shot of our ducks, doing what they do best.  We received an inch or two of rain this past week and they have been living it up.  It didn’t take them long to find the big puddle on our driveway!

-Jeremy

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6 Early Spring Homesteader Activities (and some 1st year lessons learned)

Spring has no shortage of tasks for the homesteader.  Here are six homesteader activities we have been up to lately.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it hits on our big ones.

Barn Cleaning

Yeah, this ranked as my least favorite task this Spring and my most favorite to see completed!  It was a bit easier than last year, but still an effort.  Last year, we had to clear out the manure and straw with a wheelbarrow.   This year we had a lawn tractor and trailer to assist us.  This made life much easier, but still no cakewalk.

Ah, those floors almost sparkle!  By the end of Saturday, we had everything but the duck coop clean.  Boy was I sore and tired come Sunday!!  That was a full-body workout for sure.  What a relief, now we can focus on the fun stuff!

1st year lesson learned:  Make the indoor goat pen smaller next winter!  We gave our goats way too much space (and grass bales) in the barn this winter which equated to over a foot of manure, straw, and uneaten grass on the floor to haul out for composting.  Not fun!

Gophers

Once the snow melted, our field looked like an inverted mine-field.  Instead of craters, it was littered with bumps.  Soft tripping hazards placed conveniently, everywhere!   Grr, those nasty little hill-billy buck-toothed rats are going to destroy our alfalfa.  What if they find the vineyard?  They all have to die!!  Okay, a bit over-dramatic, but you get the idea, the gophers have invaded!

Gophers are considered a nuisance animal in the state of Minnesota (and probably many other states).  They dig tunnels, kick out dirt into large above ground piles, and eat the roots off of your cherished vegetation.  They cause so much damage, that most townships in the area pay $2-4 per gopher.

Thankfully, armed with a shovel, some flag markers, death-clutch gopher traps, and metal rods, we can take them on and save our plants from destruction!

After some mentoring and encouragement from myself and a friend last summer, Stephen has officially removed this chore off of my to-do list.  Last week, he caught his first gopher, with no help from me!  He dug the hole, set the trap, and staked it out.  He even cuts the feet off (you need to provide the feet as proof of catch to the township to collect payment) and puts them in a jar in the freezer.  Sweet!

1st year lesson learned: We found this was a great way to teach Stephen about investments and renting.  Since I bought the traps, we split the earnings 50/50 (rent).  He has discovered that if he invests some if his earnings into purchasing new traps of his own, he will collect 100% of the earnings from his own traps.  It was an easy way to show him that the money he makes can be used to make more money, a simple wealth building concept.

Fencing

En garde!  Time to defend the garden, pines, shrubs, and saplings from the mischievous goats.

Spring is a great time to put in new paddocks while the bugs are tolerable and the grass is not overgrown.  We increased our garden space and extended the fence around the newly broken ground to keep out our ducks, chickens, and the wild rabbits.

In addition to the garden fence, we are also in the processes of adding a new goat paddock so we can start rotational grazing with our goats.  Rotational grazing will allow the vegetation in the unused paddock to recover and should also curb parasite problems.

1st year lesson learned: Wait for the frost to fully give out, it makes driving posts in the ground immensely easier!

Garden Preparation (and even some planting!)

The plants are doing well under our grow lights.  The strawberry plants are greening up and the chive is ready for harvest.

We have been adding compost to the garden and are now ready to start some early planting.  Note that many plants can be planted before the last frost, some examples include kale, broccoli, cabbage, turnips, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, and spinach.

Lesson learned: We always wait until the last frost and plant everything at once.  This year we will be staggering our planting, starting with cold weather crops over the next few days, and the rest after the last frost.

Tree Planting

Now is an excellent time to plant trees.  The sooner, the better.  The rule of thumb I have always went by was to get them in the ground before Mother’s day.  However, the best time is once the soil is workable. If you wait too long, prepare to put out much more work into nurturing and watering them.

We put two more apple trees in last weekend and planted 150 pines and deciduous trees on Wednesday.  Last weekend we marked out the trees we planted last year and added a thick 3-4 inches of cold compost (rabbit and goat manure + straw) around each tree to build up soil nutrients, maintain soil moisture, and help the trees access sunlight.

Lesson learned: Mark out the smaller trees and shrubs with flag markers until they get a little more visible to prevent them from getting mowed over, stepped on, or baled up.

Prepare the Hives

This is a new one for us, but I am extremely excited about it.  It is time to assemble and prepare the new bee hives for the bees we pick up in early May.

We put in our bee order with Mann Lake this week.  Two packages of bees, each with a queen, for two new hives!  I was hoping to build some more bee hives and honey supers, but I opted to order what I need right now as there is no way I will have time to put anything together from scratch before May 🙁

I also plan to setup a few bee traps in the woods.  Who knows, I might just get some free native bees and then in turn, add another hive to our homestead.  It only takes a little investment and minimal time, so, why not?

Now that you know what we are up to, how about you?  Do you have any fun (or not so much fun) Spring projects going on?  We’d love you heard from you!

-Jeremy

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Our First Bee Hive Arrives

Honeybees are amazing!  Not only do they make great tasting honey (with all the benefits that come with it) and useful wax for homemade candles and deodorant, but they are excellent pollinators.  That means our fruit trees and garden will thrive with the presence of these busy little creatures

Here is the start of another adventure….

I picked up a bee suit earlier this spring to deal with a wasp nest in the barn, so that part is already covered!  We will be fabricating additional boxes and ordering the rest of the tools in a week or two!  Will be fun!

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