Saturday, April 28, 2012

We're Officially Top Bar Hive Beekeepers!

We received our bees today and Shawn got both hives up and going without a single sting..yay!

I admit that I was a little intimidated by them.  However, Shawn drove two hours to pick up the packages of bees.  When he put them in his vehicle he noticed that there were some bees riding along on the outside of the packages.  So, he got to drive home two hours with some bees flying around inside the vehicle with them.  When he stopped at Dairy Queen to eat he even had a guy in the booth behind him say, "Hey did you know you've got a bee on your shirt?"  So, by the time he got home he wasn't quite as intimidated by them as I was.

Sam, Sarah, and I went out to watch Shawn install the bees into their new homes.

Here he is getting the queen's cage ready to hang inside the top bar hive

Pouring the package of bees into the top bar hive

The package still had some bees in it so he set it on the ground in front of the hive's entrance and then closed it up by affixing the roof to the hive.  The bees inside the package made their way into the hive by themselves and Shawn retrieved the empty package as the sun went down.

Finishing up with the second hive and putting the bars back in place

It was so much easier and faster than I expected it to be.  When Shawn went down to retrieve the empty packages later this evening he didn't even bother to wear the protective veil or gloves.  The bees really are gentle.

So, our next goal is to keep the bees alive.  We plan on giving them some supplemental food for a week or so, but then they'll be on their own.  I'll try to keep updating on our bee-adventure.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Farm Animal Update

I thought I'd give a little update on all the animals that we currently have on our farm.

This is our third Spring on our property. So far we've added a new animal to the farm each Spring. In the Spring of 2010 we acquired chickens. Spring 2011 we got meat rabbits. This Spring we are starting up with bees.

We currently have 14 Rhode Island Red (RIR) hens, 1 Longhorn hen, and 5 roosters of various breeds. The RIR hens are two years old now so their egg production isn't quite what it used to be. We love how calm and docile they are and their eggs are wonderful, but this year we thought that we would try out some different breeds. We have 15 Buff Orpington hens that are now 2 months old. Then we have also acquired 14 Black Australorps, 2 Barred Rocks, and 1 mystery hen that are all 4 weeks old. We chose the Buff Orpingtons and Black Australorps because they are good Winter layers and they're more likely to go broody. We would love to be set up so that we never have to purchase chicks ever again.

Shawn built two movable chicken tractors for the chicks to go into once they're too big for the broody pen, but still too small to free range with the rest of the flock. Right now the Buff Orpingtons are out in a chicken tractor in the front yard. The 4 week old chicks are still in the broody pen in the shop.

There's a bar in the upright portion of the chicken tractor for the hens to roost on at night. Shawn moves the chicken tractor once or twice a day so that the chickens have access to fresh grass. So far it's working well. No predator has penetrated it and the chicks seem happy.

We still have the same two female (Daisy and Zelda) and one male rabbit (Peter) that we purchased last Spring. They are New Zealand rabbits. We have the rabbit shed set up in the garden so that the rabbit droppings are right where they're needed. We've already bred Daisy and Zelda this Spring but apparently the breedings weren't successful. So, they've been bred a second time and I guess we'll see if it "took" in a couple weeks.

This year we decided to try beekeeping. With our orchard and garden we thought that having our own pollinators right on our property would be beneficial. The yummy honey in our backyard would be an extra-special bonus. We researched and decided to go with an uncommon style of hive called the Top Bar Hive. We purchased two hives this year and we intend to purchase one or two more in the future. Shawn set everything up in our pasture. It's within view of the house but still separated by a fence so that the children can't just run out to the hives by themselves.

In setting up the bee area Shawn first cut the grass in the pasture and then put down weed blocker and wood chips. We don't want to have to deal with weeds growing up around the hives once they're established.

We purchased our top bar hives from here:
They are beautiful cedar hives.  I love the way they smell.  The door on the side has a window so that you can actually look into the hive and see the comb without removing the lid and disturbing the bees.

We are due to acquire the bees very soon. I'll be sure to post an update once we get the bees installed in the hive. (If you don't hear back from me, then I guess the bees may have overcome us!)

 Finally, here are some pictures of farm animals that we DON'T eat!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

New Kittens that Nearly Died

Today was one of those mornings where your feet hit the ground running. A little before 6am this morning Shawn went down to the barn to let the chickens out. He came back inside the house and woke me up saying, "Something bad has happened down at the barn. I've got two new kittens down there laying in a pool of blood." So, now I'm wide awake...

We knew that one of our cats (the children have named her NewBabyKitty) was expecting her first litter. Apparently she started having the kittens early this morning and didn't have any of those momma-instincts that most cats seem to have. She delivered two of her kittens right on the cold, hard concrete floor of our barn and then she walked away from them. Shawn found her on the other side of the barn lying on top of a hay bale. Her whole body was shaking. I think she was thoroughly scared and confused about what was happening.

So, Shawn quickly found a box and filled it with straw. He scooped up NewBabyKitty and the two kittens and headed to the house with them. One of the kittens was already cold and not moving but the other one still had a tiny bit of warmth and was wiggling around a bit. When he brought them inside I immediately got to work rubbing the wiggling one around in a towel. We noticed that the other kitten wasn't dead, but it was so cold and lifeless that I chose to help the wiggling one. I thought that I'd have a better chance keeping that one alive because the other one was just too far gone already. After I got the wiggling one to start making some good noises, I put it back in the box with NewBabyKitty and picked up the cold kitten. I went ahead and gently started rubbing him in the towel. I was amazed when this sweet little kitten started making the weakest little sounds. Those sounds were more than I expected to get out of him. I placed him back in the box and tried to get him to nurse, but I never could get him to latch on. By this time the other kitten was nursing well.

NewBabyKitty's whole demeanor changed once we got her inside and started helping her. She started cleaning up the kittens and doing all the things that good momma cats are supposed to do. I was able to witness it when she went on to have a third kitten.

I'm pleased to report that, surprisingly, all three of the kittens survived. NewBabyKitty hasn't left the kittens since they've been born this morning. I think she finally has this momma-thing figured out. If you look at the picture above -- the black kitten was the one that Shawn found wiggling and just a little warm on the barn floor. The other two kittens look a lot alike but one is a boy and the other a girl. The little boy one is the one that came to us cold as ice. The little girl twin was born perfectly inside our home.

Everyone is content and happy. The children have loved having NewBabyKitty and her kittens in the house today. Despite its beginning, it turned out to be a really happy day today.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

2012 Garden Update

Yes, we're still here. We've just been very busy and computer-time hasn't been a priority.

I wanted to take some time to talk about changes on our homestead this year. We've been adding things, improving things, organizing things, experimenting with things...we've been busy! We've changed things in several areas, but I want this post to focus on the garden.

Since we had big plans for the garden this year I knew that I'd have to be organized if there was any way we'd succeed at keeping everything alive. So, I took some time this winter and planned out our garden.

I also made up a binder with each month's homestead duties listed. This way I won't go to do something (like prune fruit trees or start seeds inside) and realize that I should've already done it last month.

Based on the past couple years, Shawn and I knew that the two of us are no match for the number of weeds that this property can produce. So, we took drastic measures this year and decided to mulch our entire garden with wood chips. We got the idea for this by watching "Back To Eden." It's a free movie available online. So, we are currently covering our garden with wood chips as we plant an area. Then Shawn is also collecting grass clippings every time he mows. We're adding the grass clippings to the top of the wood chips in the garden.

Everything was going great until a couple nights ago when we got a last-minute frost. Now everything is a little burned in the garden. I think it'll all survive, but it doesn't look nice and pretty like it did before the frost.


Peas are being grown on cattle-panel arbors

Cauliflower and cabbage



Beets (background has arbors where green beans and cucumbers will be planted)

Garlic and onions

Potatoes being grown in tires (one of our experiments this year.) As the plants get taller we'll add another tire to the stack and fill it with dirt. The theory is that the potatoes will grow vertically and fill up the tires.

So, that's where we currently are in the garden. Lord willing, I'll add separate posts here detailing what we're doing in the orchard, vineyard, and with the animals on the homestead.