Friday, May 29, 2009

Beekeeping 101

I have spent the better part of this year preparing to become our full time beekeeper. I have attended several seminars and webinars, also. What I have learned is this....for as many beekeepers as there are, there are just as many opinions on how best to keep bees. This past weekend I attended a seminar at Bjorn Apiaries. Mike Thomas, a former State Bee Inspector and full-time beekeeper/breeder spoke on the subject of Sustainable Beekeeping....a More Natural Approach.

His philosophy is different from that of old time beekeepers, and his ideas were fascinating to me. In previous seminars, I had heard beekeepers talk of medicating their bees to help control pests such as mites. Protocol dictates that medication is done prior to the bees gathering nectar. However, tests have shown that those medications and pesticides end up in the honeycomb....and potentially in the honey. As an inspector, Mike had often seen beekeepers that failed to remove the medications even after beginning honey collection....a practice that he was unable to do anything about. There is presently no regulating body for the inspection of honey production. State Inspectors' responsibilities are only to the health of the hive.
We do not use medications with our bees. To me, it just doesn't make sense. Personally, I always worried that the medications would eventually end up in the honey. I would rather ensure that our honey is as pure and natural as possible. Mike (Bjorn Apiaries) gave us a few great ideas for naturally controlling and minimizing mite populations, without jeopardizing the environment or our health.....ideas that I plan to try with my own bees.

Another point that I found fascinating was Mike's opinion about Colony Collapse Disorder. Because Pennsylvania is one of the epicenters of research on this subject, he had the most recent information. It seems that researchers believe that it is not one single thing that is causing the demise of our bees, but rather a combination of many factors. The use of formic and oxalic acids to combat mites might change the pH of the bee's digestive system, thereby making it more susceptible to harm by current "organic" pesticides such as Bt (Bacillus Thuringiensis) which is used in large-scale spraying for control of certain pests, such as caterpillars. Although Bt is, by itself, safe for bees....perhaps the fact that the bees are exposed to such a chemical soup makes exposure to one more chemical the "straw that broke the camel's back". It is just an idea, but it sure makes sense to me. Just one more reason that natural beekeeping seems like the way to go.

I know that a certain amount of bees will not survive....I will lose hives from time to time. But as they say....the strong survive. And perhaps this will help to ensure a stronger genetic strain of bee in the long run.
As with most things in life, I don't always choose to follow the rules, but try to do what feels like the "right" thing. Natural beekeeping feels right to me.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lazy Day/Busy Day

If you did not know, it would appear that something catastrophic happened in our dry lot in this many horses down at the same time! It is unusual to see all of the horses sleeping at the same time. Usually, at least one stands lookout. I think they are just so relaxed and secure that they feel free to let their guard down.Yesterday was such a dreary day...misty, drizzly, and overcast all day long. That type of weather is great for napping...and the horses took advantage of it.

We humans, however, spent the day cleaning out the barn and trimming trees. Oh, how delicious a nap would have been for us!

We also spent a portion of the day hauling off the wood and shingles left from tearing down our wood shed. We will eventually be replacing the old wood shed with a log structure that matches our log home. As we removed layers of old wood and shingles, we were greeted by the current occupants of the shed (who will soon be in need of a new home). It seems the woodshed was home to a family of black snakes. Here are Mama and Papa. Their babies slithered away quickly before I could snap a good picture.

I am hoping they find a nice new home....far, far, away from this location....and certainly not in the new woodshed!! Yikes!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Construction Update

Our construction crew has been busy putting the finishing touches to the inside of our house. They are working hard to get us ready to move in...with an emphasis on the inside of the house for now. Once we can inhabit the inside, they will move outside and finish all of the deck work.
We had a whole house fan installed in the loft to help cool the house down on summer evenings...thereby lowering the need for air conditioning. We found a company on the internet who makes wooden covers for air returns, heat ducts, etc. out of wood. Here are a few of the covers in the loft.....much better than metal or plastic!
Most of the trim is finished. Here is a portion of one of our guest rooms. Closet doors and pocket doors are on back order...they will be pine to match the rest of the house....and will arrive mid-June.
The tile-layers have been busy, too. Here is a four foot section of ceramic tile that was laid across the front of the great room. This tile will provide thermal mass in the winter....heated by the morning sun. From this tile back throughout the rest of the great room, dining room, kitchen and guest room will be walnut hardwood (which is being laid this week).
Matching tile is laid on the hearth as well. The rest of the fireplace will be stone. The fireplace doors are wrought iron and will be installed when the stone work is finished.

My Favorite Garden Tool

I thought I would share my favorite tool with those of you who enjoy gardening. Everyone knows that keeping a garden relatively weed-free is no small undertaking. This year, though, I have found the best tool for getting rid of weeds....easily! It is amazingly simple and very inexpensive.
It is nothing more than a handle with this metal blade on the end. As you push and pull this metal blade through your soil around your plants, it cuts off any weed seedlings about a half inch below the surface of the ground....thereby eliminating them before they ever take hold. A little bit of labor and a whole lot of weeds are sent to their demise!

So simple....yet so effective. I highly recommend this simple tool!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Growing like weeds..... we are now 2 weeks old and have easily quadrupled our size!! And our cute little top hats are growing, too!!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fearless Tom Tom

You would think that a kitty that only weighs a few pounds would be a little more wary of a 12oo pound a horse. But not "TomTom the Brave". He slinks around the dry lot and barn... in and out of the horses' legs like he hasn't a care in the world!

Not a care in the world!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Adventures in Beekeeping

Imagine are driving down the interstate in your Honda Element with at least 100 loose bees buzzing around the inside of the vehicle. Scary? Not really.

Yesterday I drove about an hour and a half to an apiary. After attending a seminar on Sustainable Beekeeping, we went out into his bee yard and loaded 5 nuclear hives into my car. Unfortunately, in closing up each hive...some of the bees were left on the outside of the nuc. And, of course, they followed their hive mates into my car. So, off I drove with the air conditioning on to keep them from they buzzed around my head.

I decided that if I were to be pulled over for speeding, I was sure one look into my car would have convinced any officer to allow me to leave with just a warning!
Upon arriving home, I unloaded the girls (most of the bees in each hive are females) and started the task of installing each frame from each nuc into its appropriate hive.

Here is the nuc box next to the hive. I removed the screened lid from the nuc box and carefully lifted each frame into the new hive.

Here are all five frames installed into the new hive....notice the whiter new frames to the side of the older frames. The bees will have to make honeycomb on these new frames in order to fill them with brood and honey.

I will leave the empty nuc boxes by each hive for the night so that the remaining bees will find their way to their new smell. They will find the hive that has the correct queen.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hive Inspection

Yesterday was a beautiful, warm, sunny day....a perfect day to work the bees. In the late afternoon, I suited up, put fuel in the smoker and set off to inspect my 5 older hives. Opening the lids and removing the top boards I was happy to see my colonies hard at work packing the frames with honey. I had placed honey supers on top of my hives about a week and a half ago. Four out of my five hives has a substantial amount of honey in the middle frames of that first super; and the bees are busily drawing honeycomb out onto the outer frames. I will inspect the hives again next week. When they have begun to start to fill those outer frames with honey, I will add another super. It is rumored that this year should be a great year for honey due to the prolific flowering of the locust trees in our nearby forests.The black frames in this picture have honey comb that is filled with un-capped honey. You can also see on the white frame at the bottom....that these bees are busy making the honey comb that will eventually be filled with honey.

I also spent a little time making final preparation for today's arrival of my 5 nucs. I removed the top hive body and removed 5 frames from the lower body. Each nuc will come with 5 frames of brood and honey...and these frames will be placed in the box. Once the remaining frames in the box have drawn honeycomb and the beginning of brood and honey on them, I will add another hive body. When that body is filled, I will start to add honey supers to the top.

Here you can see the wooden entrance reducer in place. This will make a smaller front door for the bees to guard....thus allowing more bees the ability to do other necessary jobs.
This picture shows the lower hive body with five frames removed. Each nuc comes with 5 frames that will be slipped in place. Notice the screened bottom board. The purpose of this is to reduce the amount of varoa mites in the hive. Varoa mites are a small parasite (visible to the naked eye) that attack both bees and their brood. A severe infestation can lead to a collapse of the bee colony. As the mites drop from the bees, they fall through the screen and out of the hive. A screened bottom board also allows for better ventilation in the summer months. For winter, a corrugated plastic bottom is slid into place for warmth and protection from drafts.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Construction Update

Work continues on the log home. The drywall walls are painted, the tongue and groove walls are finished. The painter is applying the final top coat to the exterior. The builders are working on the trim.

Next week, the walnut floors will be laid and subsequently finished.
We have learned that we may be able to move in as early as late June. I suspect it will be sometime in July, however.
Cabinetry should be installed the first week of June...and then appliances and a couple of rooms of carpet. A bit of electrical and plumbing work to finish up....and....voila, we have a house!!
This picture is a corner of our bedroom...the wall is sage green...but shows up here looking like robin's egg blue.

Piles of rustic walnut flooring in several widths....ready to be laid and varnished.

More Signs

I have been busily trying to finish up hand painting our farm signs, so they are ready to hang when construction is finished. The final sign is this one that will hang at the roadside beside our long driveway. It is two sided and has the same design on both sides. The final coat of urethane has been applied making it weather-proof.

You might notice another sign like this on the right-hand side of this blog....that is an identical sign that I painted many months ago. That grey sign will hang by the driveway to the barn. The barn is grey, so it matches well. However, since our farmhouse is a log home, I left the above sign wood-grained with green trim, just like the house.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Up Close and Personal

Yesterday I spent a block of time in the morning weeding my strawberry patch....a chore that if done on a regular basis keeps everything under control, but if ignored......weedlam (a variation of bedlam!) When I approached my garden shed I noticed something new on the grapevine wreath that adorns the shed. You can see this new something at the lower right hand "corner" of the wreath.Upon closer inspection, it looked like this:After summoning as much courage as I could, I peered through the lens of my camera and moved in closer....
Seeing something strange at her front door, she came a bit closer to investigate.....
Just a bit closer.....

Ok, that's just about close enough. This lovely creature is a female hornet, or queen. She is building her nest in preparation for laying several eggs. Over the next week, these eggs will hatch and go through a metamorphosis. Hopefully, I will be able to snap a few more pictures to chronicle this event. Stay tuned...... And we will hope she tolerates the attention....hornets can sting more than once and their sting is quite painful!

PS...To those of you who follow my blog....I would like to say thank you! I enjoy your comments and try to visit your blogs in return when I can. Blogging gives us the ability to peer into a piece of others' lives and share in the wonders of this amazing world. Our farm is a longtime dream turned reality for gives us great pleasure to share our world with you!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Awaiting Bees

This weekend I will be attending a class entitled "Sustainable Beekeeping - A More Natural Approach" at a local apiary. And, I will be picking up 5 "nucs" or nuclear colonies to place in my five new beehives. Here are the new hives in their yard...ready to be inhabited. this yard has an electric fence around it....I am hoping to deter our resident "Yogi" who has been frequenting our bird feeders lately. There is nothing worse than having a bear tear apart your beehives!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Growing Season is a thing that just about everything. It always seems like there are ways to speed it up, but never ways to slow it down. Sometimes growth happens when we look away and sometimes right before our eyes.

This past weekend, we were quite busy celebrating the growth of two of our kids (not goats this time). The twins both graduated from college this past weekend.... one from Penn State, one from Messiah College. Now our home nest is empty...all four kids have graduated over the past four years.

While we were gone, travelling from college to college, everything at the farm continued to grow. Our little chicks have tripled in size in one week. We have suffered no more mortalities...the remaining 26 seem to be thriving quite well. Here are just a few of them...the rest went running off to opposite corners of the henhouse...they are not very sociable.
Something else that grows quite insidiously is grass!! I never seem to finish the mowing around the farm. Yesterday I spent several hours mowing several fields and today I will spend several more finishing up. By the time the weekend arrives, it will all need to be done again!

If I had supernatural powers I would slow down the growth of things like children and grass and goats. And I would speed up the growth of the chicks and the gardens and the trees that we planted. But since I don't posess these powers, I will be content to watch each thing grow in its' own time. As the song says..... To every thing, turn, turn, turn......there is a season, turn, turn, turn.......and a time to every purpose under Heaven.

Friday, May 15, 2009


There is nothing quite so delicious as a mid-day nap! It is so unusual for them all to be sleeping at the same time...I guess everyone feels safe and secure!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Finishing Touches

Although we are not quite finished with construction, I am working on a few of the finishing touches that will be added to the house when complete. Jack had suggested that we have signs on the outside of the garage directing guests to the proper door. So I made these two signs for each side of the garage. The sign on right will point guests toward the front door and the rest of us will use the garage entrance, where we will remove dirty work clothes and shoes.

The cupola is finished and ready to be mounted on the garage roof....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Taking the Good With the Bad

Living on a farm and raising critters has helped me learn to take the bad right along with the good. Afterall, how can we wake up every morning expecting each day to be sunny. A certain amount of cloudy, rainy weather must pass through in order to keep those sunny days so beautiful. And so it is with the rest of life on the farm. The cycle of life continues and just as birth brings new life, a certain amount of death occurs in preparation for new life. It is the way life was meant to be. And so we learn to take the good with the bad...the sadness serving to make the joy even sweeter.

Sadly, we lost another baby chick...only the strong is the way of the world. Happily, though, the 24 remaining birdies are gleefully running around peeping their lungs out...eating, drinking, frolicking, sleeping. What a comedy show they are!

Another sad note...we have only two ducks remaining. Our dear Daffy met with his demise recently. We have such a small amount of traffic that passes by our farm. Occasionally, someone drives a bit too fast past our pond, putting our ducks in they sometimes hang out near or on the road. On this particular occasion, Daffy was crossing the road and was killed by a motorist travelling too fast to be able to stop for a lone duck in the road. I hope this is a lesson to that driver. Although country roads seem like good places to just never know what might be on the road at any given moment.

And so we say goodbye to Daffy.

Dorkey and Methuselah are our only two remaining ducks. Next project: order and raise more ducks. (Note to self: hang a couple more "Duck Crossing" signs.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Special Delivery

Yesterday, at 6 AM the call came in, "Hello, Beehavenmaven, this is the Postmaster. You have a delivery here at the Post Office that needs to be picked up at once." With that, I hopped into the truck and drove the 5 miles to our little town. There waiting inside the door for me was a box measuring 8 x 12 x 6, and from it the tiniest peeping sounds. With tender loving care I placed the box on the passenger seat and headed back to the farm.Upon arriving back at the farm, I carefully carried my precious cargo to the new henhouse and began to gingerly open it...cautiously cutting through the tape that bound the lid to the box. Inside were 26 adorable fuzzy peeps...a wild and crazy bunch with little tufts on their heads and leg feathers and funky coloration. One by one I lifted them into their new home with warming lights and watched as each scampered off to investigate their food and water. Amazing little creatures....just hatched a day or two ago and stuffed into a box and transported halfway across the country. Unfortunately, one did not survive the trip; but the rest seem to have made it ok. After taking their fill of food and water, each would fall asleep standing up, start to sway and eventually drift downward until prone....napping....probably for the first time since hatching.
A few hours later I checked in on them and found most of them to be quite active. Keeping my fingers crossed, I hope that all will make it to maturity. It looks like they are going to be quite a striking lot of birds.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


We have tried to create special places to visit around the farm. One of this year's new additions is the sunset bench. Located on the northwest corner of our land, we placed a bench at the edge of the woods, cleared a path to it and lined it with tanbark and planted hostas along the way. This bench overlooks a field of oats and the rolling hills of our valley. In the distance is the white farmhouse of our closest neighbor in that direction. Tonight we took the dogs and went to watch the sun set. Every evening the bird songs start to wane as the sun reaches the horizon. Tonight we were treated to the sound of the wind in the trees. Sitting there watching the day come to a close, I realized that in all the world there was not a better place to be...amazing peace flowed through me. I imagine myself spending the rest of my days with endings just like this one. What a satisfying life we have in the country. The sun reaches the horizon. Jack and Sadie share a moment. Even Maddie watches reverently.


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