Thursday, April 28, 2011

Isn't It Ironic?

I spend most of yesterday hauling wood and cleaning up the debris from the tree we had cut down on Tuesday.  That makes the 8th tree we've taken down this year (5 by the tree service and 3 by my dad). 
And the shed we painstakingly moved almost single-handedly last week to keep it safe from the above-mentioned tree had a tree fall on it last night during the storm.  It's crushed!  The irony is not lost on me!



Sunday, April 24, 2011

Summer Night Lullaby in Stereo

"Your voice, he interrupted, is also like a cicada, not only a corn-crake. Do you know the legend about cicadas?
They say they are the souls of poets who cannot keep quiet because, when they were alive, they never wrote the poems they wanted to."  … from author John Berger.

I was talking to a friend yesterday, and she asked me if I had alot of cicadas in my yard.  I told her I had seen a few, but nothing significant.  She told me she has had 100s of them in her yard the past several days, and her dogs had been eating them like chicken nuggets.  I immediately thought how much the chickens would enjoy a cicada buffet.  One thing I noted is the ones I've seen lately have red eyes.  I don't remember ever seeing a cicada with red eyes.  Then this morning, Nate told me he took some interesting photos last night of a cicada.  I flicked through the photos, and my curiosity was piqued. 

Apparently, the year of the periodical cicadas is upon us.  Periodical cicadas emerge every 13 years, the last time being 1998 and the next time will be 2024.  The female lays its eggs in the nooks and crannies of trees and the eggs hatch after several weeks.  The newly hatched eggs crawl down the trees and burrow into the ground to feed for 13 years.  Once they emerge from the ground, they exit their exoskeletons and start the cycle over.

If you're used to the sound cicadas make in the summer, it is like a lullaby coaxing you to sleep.  With the addition of the periodical cicadas mixed with the annual ones, the lullaby may be in stereo this year.

Sweet dreams,


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bunny, Bunny, Bunny

The babies were four weeks old on Monday, and I wanted to post photos, but our internet was down for almost two days until about 10:30 last night.  I just love utility companies!  Not!

Their wool is starting to grow, and they are fat and fluffy.   

Sorry for the slightly blurry pictures, but they would not sit still for more than a second or two.

Happy homesteading,


Monday, April 18, 2011

The Buzz Word

The buzz word right now is bees.  The hive we installed several weeks ago is flourishing.  Last Sunday we opened it and found several queen cells.  We were pushing the bees to fill out the frames with comb before we added another hive body, but apparently they felt crowded, so they started developing queens to split and swarm.  We use medium hive boxes, so to remedy the overcrowded feeling, we added a second hive body on top and removed all of the queen cells.  One of the cells was very beneficial for us, but more on that in a minute.  Adding another hive body opened up more space for the queen to build her population.  We first made sure she was present and accounted for before we destroyed any queen cells.  That was our mistake last year.  We destroyed a queen cell that we really needed because our hive no longer had a queen.  Lessons learned, so now we are over cautious when it comes to queen cells.  Yesterday, we checked this colony, and they are going like gang busters.  There were several frames full of capped brood, and our queen was easily found with her blue dot.  Our population should really increase once that brood starts hatching.  In another week or two, we can add our first honey super!  Of course, they will still have to pull out comb on those frames, so that will eat up some valuable time, but we are on our way. 

Also, last Sunday, our mentor brought over a swarm for us, and when he opened the box, he noted that it did not have a queen.  He took one of the queen cells we removed from the other hive and, for lack of a better word, molded it into the comb of the second hive.  When we checked this colony yesterday, I noticed several things.  We had a queen cell along the bottom of the frame, and the one our mentor had inserted had deteriorated.  We also notice some larva in some of the cells.  My initial thought was we did have a queen after all, so we did not really need the developing queen anymore.  Nate and I thought we should cut out the queen cell.  But, if there is one thing I've learned with beekeeping, it's that you have to be in the moment with no distractions.  One of the worker bees was really buzzing me, and she was very irritating and distracting.  I kept walking away so she would leave me alone, but she kept buzzing right in front of my face.  I really couldn't concentrate.  I knew I wasn't really paying attention to what I was doing, so I told Nate to give me a minute to let that bee stop annoying me.  After a few mintues, I could concentrate once again, and I had Nate pull out each frame again.  We really looked for a queen and couldn't find one, and at that point, I noticed the larva was all over the frame, very patchy and random.  It didn't look right.  I showed this to Nate, and I first thought a worker bee was laying eggs, which they can do, but the resulting bees are always drones.  I pulled out my book, and it said it could be a failing queen.  We decided to leave the queen cell alone.  Whether it was a failing queen or a worker bee laying eggs, we still needed a queen.

So, I called our mentor this morning and explained everything we saw and did.  He said he could come by later in the week to look at it.  A few minutes later, he called and said one of his hives swarmed and he could deliver a new queen within the hour.  Now, we have a new queen but we have kept the queen cell for the time being.  We want to make sure the new queen is performing before we take out the developing queen.  Of course, the danger is that the new queen hatches and we will have a swarm on our hands.  We'll have to check this hive daily for a few days to see what's happening. 

Keeping bees has been very excting, very nerve wracking, very educational and an exercise in the here and now.  Once you get engrossed in working with each colony, you really do lose yourself in the task and everything else fades to the background.

Happy homesteading,



Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blackberry Sherbet

We love ice cream at our house, and we especially love homemade ice cream, but I hate how time consuming it is to make.  I like simple recipes that are quick yet delicious.  I don't have time to stand over a saucepan and heat the half and half and egg yolks until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.  So I went looking for a recipe that would take the hassle out of making ice cream, and I found it.  It's not ice cream but a fruit sherbet recipe.  It contains cream and milk, close enough for me.

I modified the original recipe, and this is what I did.

2 cups blackberries (I used frozen.)
2/3 cups sugar (The original recipe called for 2 cups.  Yikes!  That's alot of sugar.)
2 cups whole milk (or sweet milk if you want to be old-fashioned)
1 cup heavy cream

Mix the blackberries and sugar in a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved.  Cool completely and stir in the milk and cream.  Get this mixture as cold as possible!  I don't have any patience and should have chilled mine longer.  Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.

Next time I may steep some crushed mint leaves in the blackberry/sugar mixture or change up the fruit.  I have some pureed figs in the freezer that would be heavenly in this recipe.

Please let me know if you make this and how you like it!

Happy homesteading,


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Garden Update

I've been a busy beaver lately.  In addition to work, I've been diligently amending and shoveling this

into this.

This terraced bed will hold asparagus in the upper level and strawberries in the lower level.  I planted strawberry transplants and asparagus roots, so I'm anxious to see the asparagus make an appearance. 

I've also been planting my summer garden.  Just about everything is in the ground, and now I need to go back and mulch.  Mulching every year helps tremendously with weeds and keeping moisture where it belongs.  Once the garden is mulched, I hardly ever have to weed.  It's wonderful.   

So far this year I've planted raspberries, strawberries, asparagus, radishes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, garden huckleberries, ground cherries, several varieties of tomatoes, peppers (bell, anaheim, jalapeno, habanero and chinese five color), zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, swiss chard, amaranth, pole beans, bush beans, long beans, cucumbers, mexican sour gherkins, watermelon, winter squash, french melon, jelly melon, lettuce, snap peas, shelling peas, potatoes, cilantro, parsley, basil (Thai and sweet), and dill.  This is a very ambitious garden for me.  I've never planted so much, and I'm proud to say I've started almost everything from seed, which is also a first for me.  Also, many of these are new to me, such as the garden huckleberries, amaranth, long beans, jelly melon, sour gherkins, and ground cherries.  Laura Ingalls Wilder mentions ground cherries in Little Town on the Prairie, so when I saw them in the seed catalog, I just had to try them!  We'll see what happens! 

The blackberries I trellised have some pretty good blossoms on them and two of my four blueberry bushes are covered with blueberries.  I'll have to get out the bird netting soon.  My peach tree is once again covered with peaches as it is every year, but the tree rats, I mean squirrels, are always an issue.  I have tried everything I can find online to keep them from eating my peaches, but nothing has worked.  My next move is to buy a pellet gun.  I'm serious.  Year after year, I see beautiful peaches develop, and they eat everyone of them before they can ripen. 

What are you planting this year that is new to you?

Happy homesteading,


Monday, April 11, 2011

Cuteness Overload

The bunnies are three weeks old, and I warn you, these pictures are sugar sweet.  I found a bowl of bunnies when I checked on them this morning.  

Happy homesteading,


Friday, April 8, 2011

New Rabbitry and the Easter Bunny

When I got the rabbits, we converted part of the chicken coop to rabbit housing.  The cages are suspended from the ceiling with one above the other with a slanted partition between to channel the poop and urine from the top cage to the ground.  It's a fine system for someone taller with longer arms.  The top cage is too high for me to reach into effectively and the bottom cage too low.  I have a hard time removing the cages to clean them, and I always have to ask for Nate's help.  I know he doesn't mind, but the rabbits are my responsibility, and I want to be able to pull my load.

So after doing some research on rabbitries, I came up with a better plan, I hope.  We had some privacy fence panels and some hardware cloth and chicken wire, all left over from other projects.  I'm so happy when I can use materials already on hand.  We used our already existing privacy fence and the two panels to make three walls and then the front wall is covered with hardware cloth for ventilation, lighting and protection from predators.  Once we had the structure built, we dug a trench along the interior, stapled chicken wire along the edge, and refilled the trench to prevent predators from digging under.  Have you ever had to dig a trench in Georgia red clay?  Let me tell ya, it ain't easy!  Digging a trench in mostly clay is an upper body workout for sure!  We still need to cover the roof with tar paper, decide on roofing material, and move the rabbits, but we are on the home stretch of this project. 

Now I can put the cages side by side at a height good for me.  I will have room for expansion should I decide to take the plunge and get meat rabbits and/or get another angora doe for breeding and wool.  I'm also thinking of setting up some worm bins beneath the cages for composting.  I love the possibilities.

Here's a picture of the rabbitry so far.


After a frustrating day, Nate went to collect the eggs.  When he came back inside, he said he was ready for Easter.

Happy homesteading,


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Seven Years

Nate and I are celebrating our seven year wedding anniversary this week, and I have to say, my husband is absolutely wonderful.  I think, no, I know he puts up with way too much from me.  Our first five years were relatively calm, cool and collected with a few trips to the nursery for a few plants, nothing major.  Then one day two years ago, I came home and told him I wanted some chickens.  It has avalanched from there.  A chicken tractor led to a garden shed, which led to raised beds and honeybees.  Okay the bees were really more him.  The garden shed was converted to a chicken coop with a run, and then rabbits were added, so the chicken shed had to be retrofitted for some rabbit cages.  This week he has been working on terraced raised asparagus and strawberry beds as well as a small rabbit shed.  A lesser man would have called me crazy and run screaming out the door by now.  He is talented, thoughtful, loving, tolerant, patient, witty and kind.  I don't deserve him, but I'm so lucky to have him in my life.

By the way, his birthday is this month, and he's going to hit me up for a big present.  I just know it.

He just read this post and started laughing because he is sitting beside me with catalogs in hand.  I know him so well!

This is one of my favorite photos of him racing cyclocross.  Miss Flying V:  If you are reading this, he is so jealous you live in Brussels because he LOVES cyclocross!

And another with Lucy and Onyx, two of his favorite girls.

And finally, a Halloween picture with his mullet wig.  A trick or treater asked him who did his hair.  It was hilarious.

Happy homesteading,


Sunday, April 3, 2011


I'm pooped.  I spent the better part of the week getting up at 4:30 each morning to take the baby rabbits out to nurse, but once they hit 11 days and their eyes were open, I felt a little better about leaving them unsupervised overnight.  It is SOOOO nice to sleep through the night.  They are starting to move around the nest box a little and they really squirm when I pick them up, so it's hard to take a photo of them, but here are some I did manage to snap. 

This is what I see when I look in the nest box.  Baby butts!

Isn't this one just the sweetest!

This one was nibbling on hay while I was taking its picture.

And this one was exploring while its siblings were nestled in the background.

It has been raining non-stop and been very chilly most of the week, so there hasn't really been a good time to check the bees.  We've been keeping their feeder full of sugar water and have been patiently waiting to make sure the queen was released from her box and the bees have been drawing out comb.  I've watched them a few times during sunny periods and have seen pollen coming in, so I knew they were working.  Today, we finally had a good sunny warm day to open the hive and check its progress.

This frame is covered with bees, and you can see they've drawn out the comb from the top to the bottom.

This is a close-up of a frame with the bright yellow pollen they've been collecting over the past few days.

The main thing we wanted to see when we opened the hive was the queen, and this year, our queen is marked.  I was so happy to get a marked queen because to an untrained eye, she is really hard to find.  Do you see the neon blue dot?  That's our queen!

Now we just need our mentor to come by and make sure we aren't overlooking anything important.  He caught a swarm for us from one of his hives, so we should have a second colony soon as well.  Having two colonies really helps because it gives us a comparison.  We can check them against each other to help determine if one isn't doing as well as the other one. 

A friend of a friend was thinning out her ornamental flowers and offered us free plants, so we took advantage of the generosity and drove to her house today to get them.  Many of them are attractive to honeybees, so I am happy to have them.  We came home loaded down with plants, and I've spent most of today transplanting and did not even plant them all.  Finally at dark, I stopped. 

I do have one more project to share from today, but I'll share it next post.  I'm going to relax for the first time today.  Like I said, I'm pooped!

Happy homesteading,