Checking back in…

Well I noticed it's been close to two years since we have posted anything to the blog. What happened to us? Well for one the act of creating posts and making long write ups was taking up too much time. So expect future post to contain more photos and less words.

Kallie and I are also very excited to announce that Homesteading for Two is really Homesteading for Three! That's right, Kallie gave birth to our son (first child) in February. It's been an exciting adventure. We are learning as we go, both on how to raise a child and how to be parents. Having a baby has slowed down many of our projects, but certainly has not prevented us from doing what we love.

So standby for updates to follow…

Homemade Orange Juice

Recently we bought a 40 pound box of oranges from Bountiful Baskets. We decided to turn all these oranges into our own juice. It was not a hard process but it did take a little bit of time. We sat down in front of the TV, put on a good show, and whipped out the knifes and oranges. Peel, peel, and peel some more. Then we ran the oranges through a juicer and skimmed off the foam. Lastly we put the juice in jars and froze them. When we use the juice, we have to add sugar and water it down.

 

Bees: Growing Hives

 

 

It has been almost two months since we have captured our first swarm, a month and a half since we captured our second, and a week since we installed a nuc into our third hive. So here is a quick update with some pictures.

We have been opening these hives on average every 5-7 days since we wanted to keep a close eye on them and see how they are progressing. This is our first time owning bees so we had no idea what to expect and what kind of progress bees were capable of making. It took them a little longer to grow the hive than I would have thought. The last time I inspected the hives, the first swarm had built up about 75% of the frames with comb so I went ahead and added another deep hive box on top to give them more room to expanded. The second swarm hive had only built up 60% of the frames so they will probably take another week or two until they are ready for another box.

Beekeepers that we have talked to have always said to start off with two hives so you can compare them to better understand how they are doing. That advice couldn’t be more true! Both of our hives seem healthy, however hive one consumes about 30% less sugar water (we feed them through an entrance feeder) and seems to be storing their sugar water. Hive number two consumes much more than one and stores almost none of it. It is strange to me how two different hives can be so different.

The brood patterns in both hives look great. Hive number two seems to have a few more drone cells than hive one and they also made a few queen cells but there was not any larvae in them. On the first inspection of the second hive we didn’t find the queen, but on the next inspection we did and we marked her.

I hope to inspect all hives again this weekend including the one with the nuc. That would be two weeks after the last inspection giving them plenty of time to expand. The last two times I inspected my hives I did it in shorts and a t-shirt without any protective gear, however since the heat has started kicking in the girls have started getting more feisty. It looks like I will actually have to suit up for this next inspection.

The girls have been doing some strange things lately. Several days ago I had tons of bees flying around in front of the hives, on the landing board, crowding the entrance, and covering the outside of the screened bottom. I thought maybe there was some robbing going on but I didn’t see any fighting. My best theory is that the hives recently experienced a huge surge in growth from newly hatched brood, and since the weather has been bad those new bees hadn’t had the chance to do their orientation flights. The weather was good on this day and they were just out in mass conducting orientation flights. This is my best theory at least.

-Dale

Quick Gardening Update

Well it sure has been awhile since we last posted. We have just been busy with life I guess. The garden and all the rest of the plants are doing well. The spinach and lettuce and both close to being able to pick. That is good because they will probably both die off soon due to the summer heat which is just now starting to set in. The potatoes are also doing great although I am not sure when we are suppose to harvest them.

Some of the plants, in particular the broccoli, have suffered damage from various small bugs. We are trying to grow without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, or essentially using organic methods. However the bugs still need addressing. I sprinkled the plants with some diatomaceous earth and that stopped the caterpillars in their tracks. Diatomaceous earth is a safe and natural way to treat for most insects. It is a finely powdered rock that feels like baby powder but under a microscope it has very sharp edges to it. When an insect crawls on it, the diatomaceous earth makes microscopic cuts in its skin and the insect will then die of dehydration. It is perfectly safe to humans so long as you don’t inhale it of eat it. All you have to do is wash the plant before you consume it to remove any left over powder.

Our apple trees are producing fruit that are growing rapidly but one of the trees has shed all of its young fruit. It may have experienced some sort of stress but seems to be doing well now. The garlic plants planted at the trees base are also growing very well and might be ready to harvest in another month or so. Some will certainly be ready sooner than others.

The squash, green beans, and corn have all grown to about a foot tall and then stopped. I believe the soil might be too packed or wet for these plants to really survive where they are at. The sunflower plants along the barn are growing well though.

Lastly, the grape vines are trellising up the fence by the bees and have numerous grapes on them that are still green. The raspberry bush has already given us a few tasty fruits to enjoy this summer.

Hope you enjoyed the update. Coming soon is a few posts on ham radio builds and an update on the bees.

-Dale

First Look at Bees

We opened the hive that we put the swarm of bees that we captured in. This was almost two weeks after we had captured them. The bees were rather docile and well behaved and were quite easy to work. That was nice since this was a learning experience for both Kallie and I.

First we smoked the hive through the bottom screen board and then lifted the top and blew a little smoke in there. Then we set to opening the hive. It was rather easy to open and remove frames. It seems our bees have been too busy building comb to worry about propolizing the hive together.

The main lesson we learned that we can share with you is once you spot the queen, never ever EVER move the frame she is on anywhere other than directly above the hive. Kallie spotted the queen and I quickly moved in to try and mark her back with a marker so that we could spot her more easily later on. My marking job was less than stellar and I marked more of her wings than her back. She got upset and let go of the frame and fell, right onto the ground at our feet. WE DROPPED THE QUEEN ON THE GROUND AND COULDN’T FIND HER!!! Kallie eventually found her and after a few attempts was able to pick her up and put her back in the hive, but that was scary.  So always keep the frame with the queen above the hive in case she wants to fall off.

Check out the comments in the pictures below to understand what is going on. Lastly, we got a call of another swarm the same day and went to go capture it. The swarm was huge and very easy to  capture. We will open both hives again in about two weeks to check on them again. I suspect that we will have to add another deep framed box on top of our first hive in a few weeks, hopefully.

 

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The top of this photo shows capped sugar water that the bees are saving as food for later. The dark orange looking stuff in some of the cells is pollen the bees are saving to feed to the brood (babies). The white C shaped things in some of the cells are the baby larvae that in another 1-2 weeks will be new bees.

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The top half is capped sugar water and then lots of pollen in the middle.

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Bees are slowly drawing out the comb on a plastic foundation. 

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This was one of the outer frames. The bees naturally started on the wax foundation first but had no problem drawing comb out on the plastic foundation too.

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One of the wax foundation frames had big holes in it. Other beekeepers said they do this for two reasons. Small holes are shortcuts through the hive. Large ones like this are the bees stealing wax to use build comb in other parts of the hive.  Either way it is not harmful.

Swarm of Bees

We finally got a call about a swarm of bees near us and we went to go pick them up. We were both so excited because we have been wanting bees for awhile and the nuc we ordered won’t be in until late May.

The call came in around 5pm and when we arrived I was surprised that I actually knew the guy. It was a gentleman that I occasionally work with and he is a fellow beekeeper, although he had never mentioned it before. His hive swarmed and landed in a tree about 10 feet up. It wasn’t a large swarm but it certainly was easy to get. He simply wanted to give others just starting out in the area a chance to catch some bees. Below is us catching the bees and putting them in our hive. I had previously nailed the bottom board to the hive box so I couldn’t shift on us and then we made sure to close the opening and duct tape the lid on so we wouldn’t lose bees on the way home.

To catch them I just sprayed them with sugar water so they couldn’t fly very easily and then used a ladder and some clippers to clip the branch off that they were attached to. Kallie placed the branch in the box and we put the lid on. We had to remove the branch once we got home and add more frames. Half of the frames in the hive are wax foundation and the other half are plastic because I want to see which they elect to build on first. My bet is the wax ones.

We are going to open the hive up in about a week to see how far they have built, but so far it has been several days and they have stuck around. They have been doing orientation flights some, but lately it has been raining a lot. We did install an entrance feeder with some sugar water to get them started.

Also, below is a picture of Rusty trying to drag a large tree limb and our peach tree which was in bloom about two weeks ago.

Garden Planting

Kallie and I wanted to plant a little vegetable garden this year next to the chicken yard so we can grow some of our own veggies. Several months ago we made the raised planter beds that we are using and Kallie wrote how to build those in this post here. To start off we had several problems to overcome. The first was how to keep the chickens confined to their yard so they can’t eat all our veggies. To accomplish that task we removed the old cattle fencing that has too large of holes in it to keep the chickens in and replaced it with some old chain-link we had laying around. Next we had to find some good dirt to plant our veggies in since we are lacking any place to dig up dirt on our own property. We had to make a trip into the city and bought several yards of a compost, manure, and topsoil mixture. The dirt is rich in organic materials so our plants ought to grow well in it.

First we laid down several layers of newspaper to act as a weed barrier. Then we mixed in the dirt, chicken manure, and well composted horse manure in a 2:1:1 mixture. Just make sure the horse manure has been composted for about a year otherwise it will kill your plants.

After filling up the boxes and mixing the soil and manure together very well, we watered the soil in to allow it to compact a little. Then we planted our seeds.

As you can see, we planted several different veggies including lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, onions, carrots,and jalepenoes. To the right of the boxes we planted tomatoes and along the back fence we planted potatoes.

Below is some asparagus we have growing close to our garden area that the previous owner planted. It is starting to sprout up all over the place.

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In another location on the property we planted a variety of sunflower seeds for Kallie and some heirloom sweet corn. This area of the property has good fertile dirt that stays moist most of the year. The only problem is that means the grass also grows nice and thick here. Below is me cutting and turning the grass over for planting.

We ended up just turning the grass over and planting straight into the dirt on the back side. I figure the corn should grow up quickly and be taller than the grass so that shouldn’t matter.

Close by we took a cattle fence panel and staked it into the ground. Then we planted squash and green beans next to it so that they will have something to grow up on.

In another place we made some small mounds and planted some watermelon seeds and some grape vines along with a raspberries vine.

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And lastly is a picture of one of the pear trees we planted earlier this year with some new leaves.

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All in all we got a ton of plants in the ground. Now here is to hoping they all come up. At the end of the day we sat down and held each others dirty hands and got to look out at this.

Homemade Chicken Stock

What is the difference between stock and broth? Stock tends to be made more from bones versus broth that is made from just meat. Therefore stock has a richer taste from the gelatin in the bones.

If you read our post about butchering chickens, then you know we had some leftover carcasses that didn’t really have any usable meat left on them but we didn’t want to just throw them away because that would be wasteful. So we stuck them in the refrigerator for a few days until we could get around to making some stock. Here is our little home brewed recipe that makes 6-8 quarts of delicious, healthy stock.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Carcasses. We had five plus three necks.
  • Celery bunch
  • One onion (yellow or white)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 or 4 Carrots
  • 20-30 Parsley sprigs
  • 2 Bay Leaves

To start, get a very large pot (20+ quart) and add your chicken bits. Brown them a little bit over medium heat, just make sure not to burn them. After about 5 minutes, add enough water to fill the pot up to halfway and start it simmering.

Next, quarter the onions and chop the carrots and add them to the pot. Cut the root end off of the celery and add the rest including the leaves. Add the parsley and bay leaves. Then add more water until the pot is a little over 3/4 full. Simmer for 4-6 hours.

Once the mixture has a nice strong yellow appearance, usually after 3-4 hours of simmering, taste it and add salt and pepper to suit your taste. Continue to simmer until the meat and cartilage has broken down. The bones will be easy to break apart with a spoon.

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Once you are satisfied with the taste, place a mesh colander or cheese cloth over another large pot or bowl. Strain the stock and return to heat.

Prepare your canning supplies. Alternately you can freeze your stock and it should last for a couple of months. If desired, you can thin your stock with more water in order to make more but I wouldn’t add more than 1/3 of what is already there. If you do add water at this point, bring the whole mixture back to a boil before proceeding.

Now just add your stock into your jars, seal, and put in the pressure canner. Click here for canning times from the NCHFP. Now you have some fresh homemade chicken stock that is healthier and has less sodium than store bought stuff. Enjoy.

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-Dale

Hidden Jewelry Box Mirror

Kallie wanted a new place to store her jewelry because her old jewelry box that I made her many years ago is too small. She needed someplace to hang bigger jewelry like her necklaces and bracelets. Looking around our room she came up with the idea to convert an existing wall mirror to become a hanging hidden jewelry box. Some quick measurements and a run to the hardware store and we were ready to get to work. This is how we did it.

The mirror we used is a well made and heavy mirror. This is not some cheap Wal-Mart mirror. After measuring, we bought some wood for the project. We decided to keep it rather slim to the wall so we bought some top choice 1×3″ pine boards and a piece of 1/4″ plywood. To attach the mirror, we bought a four foot long continuous hinge and one of those magnetic latches to keep it shut.

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First I set my table saw up to cut a 1/4″ depth about 1/2″ from the edge of the 1×3″ board. Then I ran the full length of the board across the table saw. What this does is makes a slot to install the 1/4″ plywood back into later on. I had to make several passes moving the board over just a little bit to make the slot wide enough to accommodate the plywood.

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Next, using measurements off the mirror, we cut the boards for each side making 45 degree cuts to make everything look good. Now to just dry fit everything together to make sure none of the boards are too long or short. Then we attached three of the boards, both long ones and one of the short ends, and nailed them together. Don’t nail them to the mirror, just each other. Some wood glue also helps keep things strong.

Dry fit the last short side and measure the distance between the boards at the top, bottom, and lengthwise to figure out what dimensions to cut the plywood. Don’t forget to add 3/8″ to 1/2″ to your overall measurements to account for the slot the plywood will fit in. Now cut the plywood and slide it into the slot. Attach the last short side. Some minor sanding and trimming may be necessary to make everything fit.

In order to attach the mirror so that it laid flush against the wood, I had to use the router to make a channel that I could sink the hinge into. This took some trial and error but eventually we got it to fit just right. Since I had my router out we also cut a little slot like area into the frame so we could get our fingers behind the mirror to open it.

Then it was time to paint it. Kallie chose to paint the outside of the box a satin black to blend into the rest of the mirror back. After the paint dried, we assembled it and put on the magnetic latch to hold the mirror shut. Lastly we attached the hangers that we took off the original mirror so we could hang the whole thing from the wall. Now this whole thing has some good weight to it so use some good drywall anchors or make sure you hit a stud.

Hope you enjoyed this little project. It only took us about a day to complete. Next, Kallie is going to make a hanging fabric liner that will attach inside and have pockets for all her jewelry. Be looking for that soon. (UPDATE: Inserts are made and hung! https://homesteadingfortwo.wordpress.com/2016/04/24/diy-jewelry-organizer-update/)

-Dale

Preparing for Spring: Fruit and Bees

Well Kallie and I have been quite busy the last few weeks. The weather here has been warming up much earlier than most years and various plants are responding by budding out. Some days it has even hit 70+ degrees, which certainly feels much better than the freezing cold. I just hope that a hard freeze doesn’t roll in and hurt all the budding plants.

Speaking of plants, we decided to plant the apple trees because their plastic pots split this winter from being so brittle. We selected a location towards the back of our property that receives plenty of light and hopefully won’t be too wet for them. The soil in this part is about 18 inches of very fertile, dark sandy loam. Underneath that is much less fertile, light colored sand/clay mixture. This location, being lower than the rest of the property, will usually always have moist soil within the first foot. Hopefully this means we won’t have to water the trees ever as they should put roots down to find the water.

I wanted to add a natural fertilizer to all of our new plants this year, one that I knew would work. Horse manure! If you have never used horse manure to fertilize before, I will tell you it works! The one thing you have to remember is to only use aged manure, meaning at least a year old. Otherwise the manure will be too strong and will kill the plants. I called up a local horse stable and asked if they had any old manure laying around. Dumb question as barns always have a ton of manure they are just trying to get rid of. So I went out to their barn and loaded up two truck loads and brought them back to the homestead.

I dug the holes for the apple trees at least twice as wide and deep as they needed to be. This is because I wanted to add a good layer around the trees of manure enhanced soil and because I wanted the soil to be softer so the roots can grow into it faster. Then Kallie and I back-filled the holes with a mixture of 50% original soil, 25% aged horse manure, and 25% chicken poop/shavings from cleaning out our coop. When we placed the trees into the hole, we made sure they were above ground level so we could slope the ground up to them. Lastly we staked them to prevent the wind or dogs from knocking them over.

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You can see our garlic plants around the tree base.

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Three apple trees, not staked yet.

Recently a new Tractor Supply store opened near us which is really exciting. Being the beginning of spring, they had a ton of plants for sale. We bought two strawberry plants, two concord grape vines, two pear trees, two raspberry vines, and probably more that I am blanking on right now. The pear trees we planted closer to the house on a hill since they prefer well drained soil. The grape vines grow well in all soils especially wet dense soil so we planted those in the wettest, most fertile ground on the property. We provided a fence for them to grow up on. The strawberries and raspberries will be planted in due time. Manure was mixed in with the soil for all these plants, of course.

Bees:

Kallie has been wanting bees for a long time. Since we have the room, and beekeeping sounds exciting, we decide to learn a little more about the hobby. I was surprised to find out that there is well over 400 beekeepers in this part of the state, probably even more than that. I had no idea that the hobby was that popular. After going to a beekeeping club meeting (COBA) and taking a beginners class, we are very excited to get started.

We bought some bee hive kits from a local beekeeping supply store along with a whole starter kit. Now, normally we would try to build stuff like this on our own but it was actually cheaper for us to buy the pre-cut kits and just assemble them versus buying the wood from a store and making them all from scratch. In total we spent about $300 to buy four deep frame boxes, all the frames needed, wax coated plastic foundation, two tops, two bottoms, a beekeeping jacket with veil, gloves, hive tool, and smoker. We literally have everything needed to start two separate hives (except the bees). This brings up an important point: everyone we talked to says it is wise to start with two hives in case one doesn’t make it. It’s also important for beginners because you can have something to compare them to.

Assembling the hives and frames was not difficult and took just a few hours. The biggest challenge was making sure everything was square. Afterwards, Kallie painted them a nice, subtle green. We still don’t have bees but we have an order for a nuc (short for nucleus) in, which is about 10,000 bees on five frames that already have brood (babies), food and honey. For the other hive we are hoping to catch a wild swarm or lure them into the hive with wax foundation and lemongrass oil.

Beekeeping will certainly be a new experience for us. We just hope it all works out and that we can get some honey at some point. Until next time, God Bless.

-Dale