Bee snacks…

Whew. Yesterday was a busy day! Hubby and I were up at six to get our animals fed and out before driving out to my parent’s farm. Why so early? After what seemed like forever, our bees had finally arrived from Georgia! Dad left his house at seven-thirty to pick up his package and mine. When we got there dad was all set up to go and we determined I would watch him install and then go home and do my own package. We both ordered a four pound box of Russian bees, even though originally I had planned on Italians. Italians are said to be gentler, however I suppose if you get stung it doesn’t matter which species it is. Between dad’s advice and the information I gathered I decided on the Russians. They are more disease and mite resistant and adapt well to top bar hives, both of which were important to me. Not nearly as much though, as the fact that they don’t steal hives. Italians on the other hand will steal a weaker hive so they don’t have to work as much for honey. Lazy bees. ha ha ha.

Dad offered me a choice of a Top bar hive and a Commercial hive. I chose a Kenya style top bar hive because It is a more natural approach to beekeeping. In my opinion (limited though it is) Commercial hives force bees to make honey in a way that is convenient for us but not for them. Kenya TBH (Top Bar Hives), allow the bees to choose their own comb making style, depth and to some degree width.

I have met with some quizzical looks, a lot of questions and some downright opposition for this choice. I am forced to conclude that people fear what they don’t understand. Of all the things that I have been told about TBH’s this amuses me the most. “You just won’t get very much honey.” ha ha wanna bet! Ok so I can’t use a traditional extractor and whir my honeycomb about in a large barrel, but I can press it. Rather inexpensively my hubby can make me a press from a scissor car jack and a 5 gallon bucket. The best thing about pressing? The wax is left spotless and ready to be used for candles, hubby’s woodworking or trading with my mom for soap, lotion or lip balm. (which disappear rapidly around here)

Oh one more, this from a seasoned BeeKeeper: “It is just mean to make the bees build new comb every year.” wow really? Goodness, please don’t run out and tell the wild bees this! We will have bee mutiny on our hands! ha ha ha This one just makes me shake my head. Some people are so smart they are dumb. First of all the only comb they need to rebuild next year is the honey stores. The brood (babies) can be reused by the bees for a couple years. The difference here is that the bees are able to make each pocket for their brood the exact size they want and aren’t forced to follow the stamped pattern that comes in a commercial frame. In my case, since the bees can pick a size naturally suited to them, verroa mites are less of a problem. Do TBH still get mites? Sure, it’s nature, if there is food there will be predators.

My bees will be raised as naturally as I can. I say this because in their (three mile radius) feeding area there are at least two Genetically Modified Corn farms. They have access to GMO corn which I can not prevent but they will not be medicated, fed bleach (yeah they do that) or given any other chemical. Powdered sugar, garlic and essential oils will be their defensive line-up.

Now having chatted your ear off (again) about the bees, lets get down to the install and some pictures!

We got home yesterday afternoon with the new hive and and the package of bees and hubby set to work. He measured and cut four legs for the hive and secured them at about four foot high for me to easily work my hive from a standing position. I cut two tree branches, that I was supposed to remove last weekend and planted sunflowers just beside the bee “yard”. We gathered supplies and Hubby who is highly allergic suited up in a full body suit complete with gloves to take pictures. I am so proud of him! I only wear a jacket and veil, though I did wear gloves on my install. I set all but five of my top bars on the hive and took my queen out of the buzzing box of bees. She is in her own box and originally I thought this meant she would be alone. She had at least five maids with her. 2011 is the year of white apparently since she had a big white circle on her rump. I got a marked Queen so I knew what to look for.

At this point I thought I’d try a method not normally recommended. I let my queen out of her box. It can take a whole week for her maids to eat through the candy and release her. I know, I know you are thinking, this is your first time what were you thinking?? Well the decision was partially made for me, her screen on her box was coming loose so I pulled it up shook her into the hive and grabbed the rest of the bees. They poured out so easy it was like I’d done this a hundred times before. Ah, except the momentary panic when my queen was airborne her little white dot shining against the blue sky. Before I closed up the top though she had decided the hive must not be so bad and went back inside. Whew.

All was well until I decided to bring a cement block over to feed the bees, without my jacket. I got within three feet when one of the girls smelled the organic coconut oil in my hair and decided I must be a bee snack. She was not to be deterred. I ran around the yard like a demented pony, flicking and shaking my head. I am not sure what made her give up, but she did and all without stinging me.

The install went easy and I think mostly that is in credit to the fact that I have never been stung to my memory and thus have no inherent fear of bees. Perhaps if I am ever to be stung, a probable inevitability of beekeeping, that will change. Until then I am happy to see they have claimed the hive as their own and in a week perhaps the Queen will set about making lots of babies to continue on their legacy next year.

And now for those pictures!


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Spring is here…

I love spring. Is there anyone who doesn’t? The long winter finally gives way to crocus and daffodils. I find myself making excuses to be outside more than inside. My housekeeping may suffer but my tan doesn’t! Now that is not to say I go outside and lay about, I wish. This Spring has brought so many new things to my life. I’d like to share them with you.

I have chickens of my own for the first time, even though my parents always had them I never liked them. When they are yours you start to notice their individual personalities and traits. For example Goldie Hawn will chase everyone away from any fruit bits she finds in the compost pile. Harriet has a very soft melodic voice and is a really good mommy. Sweetie Pie is very protective of his hens and likes to hear himself crow. With chickens comes chicks, by far the most rewarding part of chicken keeping. This spring between my incubator and Harriet we hatched five chicks. So far we have lost only one and hopefully the rest are healthy and happy to maturity.

My Angoras are ready to be harvested again and love a good brushing. This spring I may be getting little ones from Raja my French doe. I have no idea if she is carrying or not. You are supposed to be able to palpate and feel tiny grapes, you try it, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. However, she is crankier than usual and her belly seems swollen. She is also eating like a small cow, which in and of itself is nothing new!

My hubby built me two garden beds one for veggies and one for potatoes. I still need two more but the poor guy works more than two hours from home so I am being patient. This year I won’t be struggling on an apartment balcony that was mostly in the shade. I actually have my own space to garden and a whole box of heirloom seeds ready to go.

Of course there is also the bees! They arrive Sunday and I will be picking them up from my dad after helping him “install” his own package. From then on I am on my own, since hubby is allergic and does not own a bee suit. He also doesn’t think much of bees except for honey. Everyone loves that part of bees!

There is so much to be thankful for this spring! Aside from the peace and joy the mini farm brings me, there is also my wonderful family. I have been so blessed this year.

Enjoy your own Spring season!


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Chicken Little…

No the sky isn’t falling, thank goodness. In my sleep deprived state I am not sure I would even notice! Why so tired? I went to bed after one am and was up every 2 hours after that checking on baby chicks! Having three healthy, warm, fuzzy chicks today is worth any sleep I lost. Hopefully hubby feels the same since he had to go to work today on about the same amount of sleep. Poor guy, what he puts up with around here!

It all started yesterday evening when we returned home from hubby’s birthday party. I checked the incubator, not expecting much on day 22 of a 21 day hatch cycle. Lo and behold three tiny little holes in three of the six eggs in my borrowed incubator. I waited, slightly impatiently, for a couple hours. I spent the time asking my mom last minute questions and haunting chicken forums for last minute advice. Every time I would check on the eggs there would be vigorous “chirping” but no progress. Chicks are supposed to start with a little hole and then turn around in their egg making more little holes. Unless of course they dry out, which mine did. I came home to an empty water reservoir in my incubator and even though I immediately filled it nothing changed. This is a serious thing, the forums say, and the chicks become exhausted, give up and die. Of course I was panicky and felt I needed to help out.

There are, as with so many things, two schools of thought on this subject. One group says never, never help. They say that a chick that isn’t strong enough to escape it’s shell isn’t worth allowing to live. So a child that must be delivered Cesarean shouldn’t be allowed to live either? Goodness, I am glad my own mother didn’t think so! Ok so I am being a bit dramatic but I do believe if you are going to try to hatch chicks (or any animal actually) in a way that is not natural to them (incubator vs hen) you have to be prepared to help out if conditions aren’t ideal. My conditions weren’t ideal, my humidity was not high enough and I do believe without my intervention I would not have had these three lovely chicks. As you can see, after much debate and hand-wringing I chose the other school of thought. That is, I grabbed a cup of warm water, a washcloth and set to work. I removed half the shell on each and as little of the dried membrane as I could. I really didn’t want to “hatch” the chicks completely as I think a little struggle does make them stronger. I am no expert of course, after all these are my first hatchlings. After five hours and many breaks I had three wet and very ugly heaps in my incubator. I removed all the extra shell and let them hang out to dry and find their feet. Can I just tell you at this point baby chicks are all beak and eyes? Seriously. they have this itty bitty head and massive eyes and they have this look of utter shock. It is rather adorable if you can get past the slime covered alien thing.

I went to bed around one am and was up at three to check the chicks. I’ll be honest I stood in the kitchen doorway for a moment, praying, terrified of what I might see. They seemed ok, breathing anyway, so I went back to bed. At five, when hubby got up for work I checked them again and had three puffy sets of eyes looking at me like hey what’s with the draft in here we were warm! I shut the lid, whispered thanks and again went back to bed. Finally at eight am I got up and moved them one by one to the “brooder box.” Nothing fancy it is a tote with a light above it and the basic chicken ammenities: food, water and bedding. Oh and three other chicks. You see on Saturday we bought three chicks from the feed store, “just in case” and they were already in the tote. They had also been yelling at the incubator all night. I am not sure if it was encouragement or escape information as the older ones have been trying to escape since they were put into the tote. Whatever it was it seemed to foster a relationship because when I put the new chicks in the tote the older ones acted like they were excited for the company. Maybe it takes six chickens to make a good escape plan, I am not sure. They aren’t very gentle with the new ones but they don’t intentionally hurt them either so for now they all get to stay.

So that is my story of hatching chicks the first time. I have added some pictures just for fun!

For those of you curious, these are three of the four eggs my Buff Orpington; Goldie Hawn, laid. They were in the incubator with two from my Silkie; Harriet. Unfortunately I have no idea what kind they are as I have both an Araucana and a Polish rooster. We are really pulling for the Araucana and hubby is threatening the Polish with eviction if his personality transfers to the chicks. He is a lazy, pain in the butt. The Silkies would have been pure Silkies but Gus hadn’t been with us long when I collected eggs for incubation.

(please don’t mind the spelling too much on this one guys spellchecker won’t work and I am too tired to proofread)

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8 soaps a felted…

I found myself humming the tune of 12 Days of Christmas as I was felting soap today. I blame my 6-year-old step-son who sang a rousing rendition of 12 Dogs of Christmas this past year. Oh how I wish I could share that video with you, you would laugh hysterically, I did. Speaking of that precocious 6-year-old, he is the inspiration behind my new felted soap critters. When I mentioned making felted bunnies for Easter he decided I should make felted decorated eggs too. He also suggested selling them together, because “that would make more sense.” Then I mention making a purely boyish soap and suggest eyeballs. He ran with this one suggesting “blood-shocked” (his words) eyes, “like really tired ones.” We decided that eyes of different colors would be best. Boys, or girls could then pick eyes that match their own. So today I started to wet felt the bodies of 2 Eyes, 2 Bunnies and 2 more Lady Bugs (which didn’t excite him as much as Eyes and Bunnies). I think he will be proud. He told me once, as we made pipe-cleaner critters, that he was the idea person and I just make stuff. Wow. I suppose that should be a blow to the old self-esteem but if you knew him you would know he is positively guileless. So I am content having my idea man, I will just make stuff. 🙂

I thought to share this cute thought before I drag out my soap grater and prepare to melt some down for eggs. Enjoy your day!

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A buzz about something…

You know I just had to blog about Bee School! Some of you are scratching your heads asking whaaat? Well, on saturday I drug poor hubby out of bed at 5am to drive 2 hours to sit in an auditorium for 8 hours to learn about Bees. To be specific, Honey Bees. I thought I was excited before I went to class but Oh boy have I got bee fever bad now! I blame my father, who has hives (yes, plural) and loves his bees so much he posts on FaceBook about them! (and you know it’s not official until you post it on FB) Incidentally, Dad is also responsible for me being able to get bees this year! He happens to have a top bar system that I can use which cuts my start up costs by, oh, a couple hundred dollars. Thanks be to parents who love their kids! ha ha ha

Ok so I am sure you are curious about class, what they teach, what instructors are like and so on. Well the whole day was broken up into 4 sections (and lunch) and my husband and I took all 4 beginner classes. We wanted to skip the last class and go to the top bar hive class but alas it was canceled. 😦

We started the day with an opening session with a lady from Arizona who has spent her life studying mites. (creepy itchy crawly and all-together nasty critters) Even though I itched the whole session through, I truly enjoyed her passion for her subject. How you can be passionate about mites I have no idea, but to each their own. I enjoyed her talk a great deal.

The first session was on bee basics such as anatomy, roles of the three castes (vocab word for ya) and general bee awareness. I am sad to say the guy who taught it seemed bored to tears and believe me this transferred to his pupils.

The second class talked about basic hive construction, tools and supplies. Taught by a 3-year “veteran” and her mentor. She was so fun. She told stories of her mistakes and successes and cautioned against the overwhelming cost of this “hobby.” I think she is right, people expect to make a killing off honey but don’t take into account the cost of supplies and limited (if any) honey you get to harvest the first year. Educate. Educate. Educate.

Class three was on common problems, such as mites, swarming and beginners not knowing about the queen in the box. What I learned is mites are nasty, swarming isn’t necessarily negative and to always make sure the queen makes it out of the box.

To wrap up our day we talked about all the products you can get from a hive besides honey. You can harvest and market Wax, Pollen, Royal Jelly and even Queens.

I bought a few things since they had a few vendors there. I got a really cool smoker for calming the bees, a brush and a hive tool.

Dad and I are ordering Russian bees next week and I am getting a 4lb box of them. Sometime in mid April my yard will have several thousand pollinators! And maybe just maybe I’ll have a little bit of honey too. 🙂

I hope you enjoyed my little summary of Bee School, have a great week!


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I am actually an old lady disguised as a twenty-something year old female. How do I know this? Well aside from actually being said old lady in disguise, I do have a few other indicators. Where shall we start? Hmm How about the fact that I knit? No, No. Knitting is Haute Couture right now isn’t it? Ok what about Crochet, Weaving and my personal favorite; Spinning.

On top of that tonight I found myself googling another lost love; Bobbin Lace Making. I get all nostalgic about tiny threads and hanging wooden bobbins. Only I have no personal memories of this, to the best of my knowledge no one in my family has ever made lace.  Lace making is older than most people imagine. Colonists were limited in their patterns by the scarcity of pins and yet still managed to make intricate, delicate lace. Supplies were often ordered from the home land, namely England. Lace making was the day to day gift of the wealthy nobles wives, often as a group activity. Before television and radio women gathered at the feet of a reader who would recite poetry or read aloud popular writings of the day. Poor women would scavenge items to make their own bobbins and pillows were often stuffed with grasses. They would work tirelessly on lace to sell to the local mercantile to help support their families.

I have fantasies of sitting with my pillow on my knee designing the newest edging, tablecloth or lingerie. This is much the same feeling I get walking through a fiber fair, the sights drawing me in, seducing me. They speak to me of times gone by, of gifts passed down through generations. They remind me that everything is precious and as such it is worthy of preserving. I know I may sound like a terrified, pack rat of age old skills but I believe that we stand a chance of losing them. These skills whether passed down through doting grandmothers of picked up on our own through books and websites link us to our history.

So yes, I may seem older than my skin, but I enjoy telling the stories our ancestors can no longer tell. I do this through my art, as do you through yours. So next time you reach for your needles, fiber or whatever your medium, remember those that went before you.The skills you enjoy today may become the memory of a future generation.

Thank you as always for listening.

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Pass the tissues…

I am amused that an afternoon with my Angora Rabbits leaves me reaching for allergy meds and tissues. To be fair my rabbits are only the tip of the ice-burg, I am allergic to everything with fur. Cats, Dogs, Sheep, Goats, Rabbits and I recently found out; Alpaca to name a few. Even with the itchy skin, watery eyes and sneezing I wouldn’t trade fiber arts for the world, or pets for that matter. I have to many pets to worry about silly things like allergies!

Today’s bout of sneezing was brought on by finally bringing my rabbits inside to get them groomed. I got a lovely surprise and both my buck and doe were in partial molt. Charles is my buck and he provided a decent 0.3 ounces of fiber! He was really matted when I bought him and so any fiber from him this year is a blessing. Raja, my doe gave an impressive 0.4ounces as well! I know, I know less than half an ounce each is not that impressive right? Well for a rabbit it is, let’s see how long it takes you to grow half an ounce of hair. Raja can do it in 4-6 months, Charles in 3.

I am still baffled, indignant and slightly amused at the people who still believe we kill our rabbit for their fiber. Really? Where would be the profit in that? A one time harvest of half an ounce after months of feeding an extremely gluttonous breed? (Perhaps this is just my experience but rabbits will eat you out of house and home if you let them!) I have sat on forums and just gaped in total disbelief at people raving at hand-spinners for animal cruelty. Believe you me, there is nothing to be said in our defense either according to these people! Well I am here to set the record straight today, ignorance isn’t bliss.

We do not kill our rabbits, as stated above that would be a waste of time and profit. (among other reasons) Fiber is harvested either by cutting individual hairs, like your barber would do, or by plucking. I pluck because it mimics the natural shedding of the rabbit and also provides a more delicate spinning fiber. My rabbits don’t seem bothered by the process and are even more rambunctious after it’s over.  (like a puppy after a bath)

I typically do this in the house. I bring each in one at a time and begin by trimming toenails. Raja hates this worse than anything as she has to be on her back. Charles is the epitome of relaxed and couldn’t care less what you do to him so long as he gets petted once he is upright. Raja I bribe with pineapple, that girl will do anything for pineapple.  Once that is over and the rabbit is once again right side up I begin looking for any excessively matted areas and trim those off with kiddy scissors. Charles has excessive facial and ear hair which I also trim, where Raja is clean-faced. once they have been de-matted i start at their behinds and work my way up to their necks, one side at a time. I lay a hand flat against their skin and use the other to gently pull sections of hair. Now, take a moment and breathe. This doesn’t hurt. It’s not like your hair, you don’t molt, if I pulled on your hair you would not like me very much. Neither Raja nor Charles even react when I do this. Unless Raja has run out of pineapple, then she tends to bite you if you do not quickly attend to her desire for more. This happens whether you are plucking or not, she is just wired that way. Rabbits lose a section of hair when new hair is grown, the old stuff is loose on the rabbit but not loose enough to simply fall off. They molt they do not shed. Again deep breath, the rabbit isn’t bald, remember the new growth I talked about? Once you pluck the old you can start to see the new. Charles was about 1/2 inch long today and still plenty warm, it is only march after all. Raja had about and inch or so but she has just grown out from her previous owner cutting her fiber last summer. I prefer to pluck, as I said, because it mimics the natural molting process. I don’t like the idea of cutting fiber because you could nick the rabbit or yourself. Also if you cut your rabbit’s fur to early and too short they could become overly chilled and go into shock. Of course many Angora people who choose this method will put a coat on the rabbit until it is warm enough to not need it.  I am not trying to say cutting is a poor method, it just isn’t what I prefer.

There are things to look for when I check my rabbits, twice a day. Things like cottony tips to their coats, excessive fur in their cage and (hopefully not) chewed fur. When I see any of these I know it’s time to harvest the old stuff. There are several benefits to this process. First the rabbit can’t completely shed it’s coat and may become overheated with more than one layer of fiber. Second if the rabbit does get too hot it may start chewing or pulling its own fur and in the process ingest some. This causes a condition called wool block and sometimes they can’t recover from it. It causes them not to be able to eliminate and they also believe themselves to be full and may not eat. It is a slow painful death. Rabbits bathe like cats do, by licking themselves, so a small amount of fiber ingestion is normal. Angora owners typically provide for this circumstance with papaya (tablets or the real stuff), hay and pineapple. So you see it’s a rather big help to the rabbit to be rid of its extra fur and handspinners are more than happy to use up the silky soft stuff!

I am not by any means an expert on Angoras, but I do know my rabbits. I know that both sit quietly and nibble treats while I pluck their fur and they both seem to enjoy coming inside for a visit. (I think that has more to do with treats and petting than actual want of company!) Charles runs around like a crazy rabbit after being plucked and seems to have boundless energy… So if you are looking to snuggle best to do it while he still has that extra coat. He seems, liberated after and is ready to play. Raja shows little reaction,  but then the aristocrats never do. With her French breeding and Satin qualities she is my diva (read; attitude problem). I love them both to death, but Charles is my Mr. Personality. If I ever decide to spin in public right from the rabbit, He is my wingman. He loves everyone and if you have time to pet him you’ll have a friend for life. Raja… well all I can say is don’t forget the pineapple 🙂

I hope I have put some fears to rest today and I hope you have enjoyed hearing about another process in the world of fiber arts! Have a wonderful day!

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Charles the Giant Angora the silver one, Raja the French/Stain Chocolate, a strand of fiber from each on the scale, About 1/4 once from Charles washed and ready to card.

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