We Have Bees!

Kenyan top bar beehive

There it is: our version of a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive!

We finished the Kenyan Top Bar Beehive just in time!  Ray and I built our own Kenyan Top Bar Beehive with plans given to us by Master Gardener Kim at one of her workshops we attended on beekeeping.  The plan was simple and easy to follow.  Now all we needed were some bees!

I had ordered the bees from Olivarez Honey Bees via phone a few months in advance.  While on the phone I was given the choice between the Italian or the Carnolian variety of bees, but I wasn’t sure which one to go with. I told the order taker that we were first time beekeepers and I had a fear of being stung, so I wanted the most gentle bees possible.  She said both varieties are gentle.  Then I told her they would be at 3,000 foot elevation and would have to withstand a little bit of snow now and then, but hot and dry summers.  She said both varieties were excellent for the situation I described.  I told her we would be using the Top Bar Hive system and would be beekeeping organically.  She said either one would be great for a top bar hive. So with the Italians and the Carnolians being fairly equal, I decided to go with the Italians.  It was easier to say. :)

The day arrived to pick up our bees.  We had about a 2 hour drive to get to the ranch holding the bee day and we wanted to get there early.

Oliverez Honey Bee Day

Free coffee and donuts – I’ll have two (of each)  :) They also offered free fruit smoothies – yum!

Parking was a breeze in the large cow pasture next to the event.  We were offered free coffee and donuts (yes, please!) and then set about exploring and mingling.  Ray and I sat at a table to enjoy our morning snack and met a very nice lady who was there to get her second package of bees from Olivarez, as she was very happy with the package she got last year.  Another couple we talked to were getting their first package of bees, but had been helping a neighbor with his bees for years and enjoyed it so much they decided to get some of their own.  When I asked if they had ever been stung and how many times, they answered “of course” but that it was “their own fault”.  I ask this question a lot and I get the same sort of answer a lot. I am petrified of getting stung, so I want to know every detail of why, how and what happened when I hear someone else’s story.  Usually their answer is something like “I got too close to the hive entrance” or “I was working too quickly and hit the hive with my elbow”, or stories similar to that.  Then they would tell me, “it hurts (not gonna lie to you) but only for an hour or so”.

Well, alright then. I’m probably going to get stung.

Our first order of business was to check-in at the ordering desk. We have bees!-9

Everyone was so friendly and happy to have us there as customers, and the whole process was very smooth!  They found my name, saw that I had ordered one package of Italians, and that it was already paid for with my bank card.  I was given a receipt and told that I can pick up my bees at any time, but she said most people get their package after lunch.  Cool!

Here is the Mann Lake Booth.  We got some gloves, a smoker and some bee food here.

Here is the Mann Lake Booth.

There were also several vendors at the event.  Mann Lake, ltd  had a large retail area under the huge circus-like tent. They brought just about anything a beekeeper would need.  We looked at their books and browsed through some of their equipment.  Most of their equipment was for Langstroth hives but we did buy some gloves, a smoker, and some bee food.  We had previously purchased our bee suits online.

 

Another vendor was the Chico Honey Company, and they had some very delicious honey to purchase, along with t-shirts, honey paraphernalia and such. There was also a kid’s area with face painting.  Maybe next year when we get another package of bees we can take our grandchildren.  I think they would really enjoy the day.

I also have to show you this beautiful quilt they had hanging at the venue. Isn’t it just the cutest thing?

Newbee Beekeeping

Isn’t this just the cutest quilt!

After eating our donut (s) and drinking a few cups of coffee (it was really good), it was time to watch one of the demonstrations.

Installing bees into a top bar hive

A demonstration on how to install a new package of honey bees.

One of the Olivarez Beekeepers gave a very thorough and informative demonstration on how to install your bees into your hive. He made it look just a bit too easy, but then he is a professional.  I was very glad to hear a lot of his tips, such as to spray your bees with sugar water because it makes them happy and less likely to sting or fly and also to avoid installing the bees when it is dark because they don’t fly in the dark, have to crawl, and are more prone to sting out of fear.  After the morning demonstration, we had a little more time to browse the vendors and mingle with other beekeepers, then a hot dog barbeque lunch was served!

It was finally time to get our bees and go home.  All we had to do was hand our receipt to one of the bee guys, who promptly disappeared into the barn.  Seconds later he came out with our package of Italian honey bees that included one mated queen and three pounds of worker bees!  Here they are…

Italian Honey Bee Packages

Here is Ray with our bee package and the Queen Bee!

We Have Bees!  Stay tuned for the installation!

 

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Wood Warms You Again and Again!

This past spring we had several oak trees cut down that were casting too much shade upon our struggling fruit trees.  In fact, one of our peaches and both apple trees didn’t even see sunshine – at all!  I always struggle with eco-friendly practices versus self-sufficiency, and this was another one of those battles.  Do I cut down some beautiful oak trees that are in the way of a few trees in my orchard, and let the fruit trees suffer for lack of sunlight?  Or do I cut down the offending oak trees so that I will someday be able to harvest my own organic apples?  Self-sufficiency won this debate.  Those oak trees had to go.

Cutting firewood

Here is Mike, the lumberjack, at least 30 (maybe 40) feet up a very tall oak tree!

We had a local tree guy, Mike, come over to fall the trees.  I was nervous because the trees were very big and tall, and were right next to our orchard, garden and beehive.  I was afraid one of the trees would fall the wrong way and destroy the very things we were trying to save!  Luckily, Mike was a very careful and experienced lumberjack and was able to place every limb and trunk exactly where it needed to be. Not one branch fell the wrong way.  Whew!

Once Mike the Lumberjack was done, Ray and I were left with a huge mess and tangle of oak limbs and huge trunks.  For the past two months we have slowly been cutting the

Firewood cutting

This is part of the mess we were left with.

wood into about 18 inch lengths – perfect for our cute little wood stove!  The wood will keep us warm this winter and will also cook a majority of our food!  After we get a large pile of wood cut, we carry it over to the splitter, since most of the logs are too big in diameter to fit into our itty bitty wood stove.  The wood splitter was made by my brother-in-law, Danny, who passed on to heaven almost three years ago (and I still miss him). He was an excellent welder and machinist, and could make just about anything.  The splitter may not be pretty, but it sure does get the job done – and fast!

Oak firewood cutting

This is the hydraulic splitter that my brother-in-law, Danny, made.

After splitting the wood into wood stove sized chunks, we stack the wood on top of a tarp.

Firewood warms you five times!

Here is the stack we had when we were a little more than half done with our wood cutting, splitting and stacking. We will need every bit of this wood to stay warm this winter.

The tarp is there so the wood doesn’t “melt” into the dirt, and to deter ants and termites.  It won’t keep the critters away completely, but the tarp will make it a bit more uncomfortable for them to inhabit our wood pile.

What we like to do is get up early in the morning when it is still cool and cut for about an hour or so, then we do some splitting and stacking, and try to quit around lunchtime.  The past week has been fairly productive because it has been cool, but next week we are supposed to be in the mid 90’s to 100’s here in Northern California, and it’s brutal working in that kind of heat!

Cutting Firewood

Here is a pile of brush and limbs from the oak trees ready to go into the chipper/shredder.

The next morning, if we are too tired and sore from cutting, splitting and stacking, we will spend time chipping instead.  We bought our chipper eight or nine years ago and it has performed well.  Rather than have large piles of brush to burn next winter, which is a fire hazard here in the middle of the forest (especially with our terrible drought here in California), we chip most of the small limbs, brush and leaves that are left over from the trees we cut.  The chipped and shredded material makes a wonderful mulch for the garden.  We are also throwing a layer over the ground in the orchard area, in preparation for planting clover to help condition the soil. Some of the mulch also goes into the compost pile.  It’s the most efficient and safe way we have found to get rid of all that brush from the trees!

Oak wood mulch in the garden

We spread about 4-5 inches of mulch in all the garden beds. It’s great because I don’t have to water as often because the mulch keeps the soil cool and moist.  Another benefit is that I have had very few weeds to contend with.

So, let’s see…  We get warm when we cut the wood, warmer still when we split it, and by the time we are stacking we are almost burned out – yes, pun intended :) .  That’s warming three times.  But, then we chip.  That’s four times.  Finally, the wood will warm us is when we burn it in our woodstove!

Well, actually, I guess it warms us again when we eat the food cooked on the wood stove – delicious!  And also when we spread the mulch around in the garden beds and over the orchard area.  And then again…

well, you get the picture!

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Organic Pest Control

I planted two varieties of strawberries to see which one would do best here at our new home.  They are both doing equally well.  The Sequoia started blooming at least a month earlier than the Quinault, but now as the Sequoia are starting to give up, the Quinault seem to be coming on strong!  I had no idea this would happen, but it’s wonderful because it will prolong our strawberry season.  However, even though the Sequoias were doing well and started putting on quite a few strawberries in early May, something was eating the fruit just before it became fully ripe!  We couldn’t even taste the strawberries to see if there was a difference between the two varieties!

Well, this can’t happen.  I’m not growing food to feed the forest critters, and we certainly can’t be very self-reliant if an uninvited guest is eating our food before we can.

The nerve!     Well, I never!     Heavens to Murgatroyd!

Judging from the little teeth marks on the half-eaten strawberries, I decided we were dealing with mice.  So, out came the mouse traps and peanut butter!  This method has worked fairly well so far.  One of our first scalloped squash was also half-eaten, I assume by mice, so we have a few traps by the squash as well.

Mouse trap for organic pest control

Good old fashioned mouse traps – they haven’t made a better one yet! Maybe these will keep the mice out of my garden so we can eat some strawberries!

Another pest I was afraid would descimate our garden was our native Banana Slugs.  I could imagine one of these slugs might take out an entire plant in one night.  Not cool!

Banana slug in Sierra Nevada Mountains

This is one of the many banana slugs we have found on our property. We saw it’s silvery trail and found this slug just chillin’. My middle finger is 3-1/4 inches long, so you can see Mr. Slugo is about 4 inches long – and fat! I’m sure he could devastate our vegetable garden overnight!

However, I read somewhere that slugs prefer not to cross copper. Apparently as their little sticky, sluggy tummies come into contact with the copper, it causes a very slight electrical current and the slugs prefer not to cross over it.  Hmmmm….

Copper…

Pennies are made of copper, right?  I had a whole bag of pennies!  So, I decided to try placing a copper ring around all of my new “tender” plants to see if it would keep the slugs away.  The verdict?  It works!  At least I think it must because I haven’t had any slug damage on the plants that have the penny rings around them, yet I have found several slugs within and around my garden!

I wanted to give these sunflower seedlings a fighting chance against our Banana Slugs.  Apparently copper really does work!

I wanted to give these sunflower seedlings a fighting chance against our Banana Slugs. Apparently copper really does work!

The biggest pest problem that I have been dealing with, however, has been the #$@%&#*&  Yellow Jackets.  Yellow Jackets are omnivores, which means they will eat meat (your hamburger, other bugs, or even you) and also sweet things like nectar, honey or your soda!  In the garden, if you are careful when they are around, Yellow Jackets can actually be a good thing!  Being meat eaters, they will eat caterpillars, grasshoppers, and various other insects.  Unfortunately, one of their prey are honey bees!  The Yellow Jacket is a more adept flier and can catch a honeybee in mid flight, and will eat the poor little honeybee’s softer abdomen as she kicks and flails her legs.  Yes, it is really quite gruesome and I have witnessed this several times within a few feet of our new hive.  I decided to go on the defensive against the Yellow Jackets, but what could I use?  To make matters worse, when autumn comes, the Yellow Jackets will begin to smell the honey in the beehive and may attack the bees to get to the honey.  I have read that Yellow Jackets can take out an entire colony of bees and steal all their honey!

I didn’t want to use an insecticide for obvious reasons – I have an organic garden and I also didn’t want to harm the honeybees!  We found some wasp traps at our local box

Redneck Organic Pest Control

This is one of those wasp traps you can buy at your local box store. They work but can be expensive if you need to control the Yellow Jackets through the entire season!

store and they work, but they cost $5.99 each and only work for about two to three weeks, then have to be replaced.  We were over-run with Yellow Jackets (mild winters cause this) and knew we would need to have a fortune’s worth of traps to keep the Yellow Jackets at bay so our honeybees would have a fighting chance.

Then, my sister Machell told me about a method some guy was using and claimed it worked so well he hadn’t seen a Yellow Jacket for weeks.

It was simple.  Fill a shallow tray with water that has a few drops of dish detergent in it to within 1/2 to 1 inch of the top. Then, get a piece of wood that can easily rest across the top of the tray.  Now, either nail a piece of meat to the piece of wood, use twine to tie the meat on, or do what I did and use rubber bands to strap a piece of meat onto the wood.  I used 1/2 a strip of bacon.  Now, turn the wood over so that the meat is on the underside of the wood.  Set out where you have seen a lot of Yellow Jacket activity.

I was nervous that the water would attract honeybees as well as the Yellow Jackets, so I watched the water carefully for the next few hours.  Luckily the Yellow Jackets were interested but the honeybees were not.

I couldn’t believe my eyes.  It really worked!  Within two days I had a few dozen Yellow Jackets drowned in the water.  This is so much cheaper that buying a lot of traps and I also don’t have to be concerned about having to dispose of the purchased traps with all their plastic!  I found even a small piece of bacon (about 1″ x 1″) will work, but the bigger the piece of meat, the more the trap attracted the Yellow jackets.

Meat Bee Traps

Here is my Redneck Yellow Jacket Trap. Don’t laugh – it works! I think it is actually working better than the ones I bought at the store!  It’s time to clean out again so I can catch some more!

The only disadvantage to this trap is that if it rains, your trap will probably accumulate too much water.  So, if it rains in your neck of the woods very often, it’s best to place this trap under something to keep the rain out.  Also, if you live in a hot, dry area, you will need to ADD water – probably once a day or so.

One more way I have been dealing with the Yellow Jackets is with those hand held, battery run bug zappers.  I’m sure you have seen them.  They look like a tennis racquet, but when you press a button, the metal grid becomes electrified.  It is so satisfying to catch one of those nasty little buggers and hear them fry!  They actually pop and sizzle on the electrified grid.  Obviously I am not Buddhist!  I learned that if I leave one of the fried Yellow Jackets on the metal grid, others come to cannibalize their comrade and I can zap a couple more without having to chase them down!

My forehand hasn’t been better! :)

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Off Grid Laundry

Here we are in the middle of red dirt country, and as we prepare to build our new home, we get very, very dirty (and stinky)!  Rather than drive almost forty-five minutes down the hill to the nearest town to do laundry, we chose to set up our own washing facilities right here on our homestead.

After reading about off grid laundry systems on the internet, I became completely intrigued by the 5 gallon bucket and plunger method.

Five Gallon Off Grid Washing Machine

This is one way to make an off-grid washing machine! Believe it or not, this works well in a pinch. The only power needed to run this washing machine is a little bit of elbow grease!

First, get a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid – preferably one that screws off.  Then purchase a toilet plunger – you know, the rubbery type with the (usually) wooden handle.  Now cut a hole in the lid of the bucket right in the center just big enough for the handle of the plunger to fit through.  Then, cut a few holes in the rubbery part of the plunger.  Your washing machine is now finished.  Just pour water in the bucket, add soap, or detergent, or soap nuts, etc., then add your laundry items, push the plunger in among your laundry items, place the lid on the bucket with the plunger handle going up and through the hole…

then plunge, plunge, plunge!  Once you think your laundry is clean, dump out the water, add rinse water, put the plunger back in and the lid back on and…

plunge, plunge, plunge!

Sounds simple, right!  It also sounds like a lot of work!  ;)

Yeah – I want to be off-grid, but I never said I didn’t want some modern conveniences!

So, we set up a laundry room in our new metal shed…

Off Grid Laundry

My new laundry room. All the modern conveniences but off the power grid!

The washing machine is our old one from the house we sold down in the valley.  It is getting old, but still works just fine.  We found an almost new propane dryer on Craigslist for cheap, and set that up right next to the washer.  Do you like those shelves?  The shelves were once a waterbed headboard from years back.  Luckily, my ingenious pack-rat husband (“this may come in handy someday” is his favorite saying), found it was just the right size for our new laundry room.

We run the washing machine and dryer with our generator.  We found that it was easier and faster to fill up the washing machine directly with the hose.  We also heat water in a large bucket with a propane cook stove, and pour that directly into the washing machine. That way, we don’t have to turn on the generator until the tub is full of water and laundry.

Our solar dryer outside our new laundry room.

Our solar dryer outside our new laundry room.

Of course, we don’t use the dryer much right now because it’s summertime, so we use the solar dryer outside!  However, in the winter the propane dryer will come in very handy,

One concern of ours, however, was the use of harsh detergents and the disposal of the wash water.  What we did was set up a french drain system for the gray water (wash water) and this works very well.  But, what about the detergents that could potentially harm the trees and bushes in the vicinity of the drain, much less foul the soil?  The solution came last week in the mail!

How to do laundry off grid

All of this was sent to me in the mail a few weeks ago. Four wood dryer balls, five laundry nuts with bag, and six packets of organic laundry soap! I couldn’t wait to try them out!

Amanda Powell, from Econuts, was kind enough to send me a package of soapnuts, along with a package of wood dryer balls and several packets of organic laundry detergent. You may have seen this company when they were featured on “Shark Tank” on ABC.  Not only are their products eco-friendly, but so is their packaging – they use little to no plastic, which is great for our environment!  I had heard of soapnuts before and was very interested in trying them!

I tried several loads of wash with the soapnuts.  My honest opinion?  They work great on my undies, bath towels and sheets.  My blouses and slacks got clean with the soapnuts also.  However (I am being honest here), it did not work so well on our red-dirt-stained work clothing.  I had to rewash those with a mild detergent to get the ground in dirt and sweat stains (and smells) out.

I like the soap nuts.  Not only are they environmentally friendly and get most of my laundry clean, I also like the fact that I don’t have to live with harsh detergents and/or chemicals next to my body. I have fairly sensitive skin (especially in my armpits) and not using harsh detergents is  great.  However, I will still use detergents for our work clothes.

The wool dryer balls?  These are fantastic!  It’s funny –  I had purchased some wool yarn to make my own dryer balls a few months ago when the skeins were on sale.  But, because of our recent move, I just never got the time to make the balls!  I was so pleased to get these really nice wool felted balls (they won’t unravel) to use in my dryer.  As I have said before, right now we aren’t using the propane dryer much, but I did wash a load of permanent press blouses and slacks and hung them on the solar dryer.  Then, when they were just damp I threw them in the propane dryer with the wool dryer balls for about 5 minutes and the blouses and pants came out soft and wrinkle free!  Nice!

Look how big these wool dryer balls are!  Oh - and can you see that powdery red dirt in the background?  Umm-huh.

Look how big these wool dryer balls are! Oh – and can you see that powdery red dirt in the background? Umm-huh.

I am going to keep the dryer balls in a large glass jar with a lid so I can use just a few drops of lavender essential oil on them for a light scent.   The glass jar helps preserve the scent. Amanda promised me that the essential oil will not disintegrate the wood balls (just an urban myth, I guess), and by keeping them in the glass container they will stay clean and fresh, and the lavender oil won’t dissipate so quickly.

So, there you have it.  That’s how we are doing our laundry up here on our homestead.  It’s really not much different that doing laundry with the power grid, and with the Eco-Nuts I don’t have to worry about fouling up our soil or harming any trees with harsh detergents.

Of course, if the SHTF (which many believe will be happening soon) I can always use the bucket and plunger method!  :)

Disclaimer:  Amanda, from Eco Nuts, generously sent me the contents of the package as described above.  My opinions expressed are honest, as you would expect from me, and told as truthfully and completely as possible.  0001

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is where I party!  Meet Up MondayThank Goodness It’s MondayClever Chicks Blog Hop; Grand Social; Mix It Up Monday;Create, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me MondayMotivation Monday; Inspiration Monday; Made By You Monday;Homemaking Mondays; Mum-bo Monday; Show & Share Tuesday; The Gathering Spot; Tuesday Garden Party; Brag About ItTuesdays with a Twist;The Scoop; Two Cup Tuesday; Tweak It Tuesday; Inspire Me Tuesdays; Tuesdays at Our Home;  Pinterest Foodie;Lou Lou GirlsInspire Us Tuesday; Party In Your PJ’sMake, Bake and CreateDown Home Blog HopWildcrafting Wednesday;  Wicked Awesome Wednesday;Whatever goes Wednesday; Show and Share Wednesday; Wined Down Wednesday; What We Accomplished;  Project ParadeWake Up Wednesday; Fluster’s Creative Muster; Hump Day Happenings; Homestead Blog Hop; The Blogger’s Digest; Wow Us Wednesday; Turn To Shine;  Our Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday;  The Handmade HangoutCreate it Thursday;  Think Tank Thursday; Green Thumb Thursday; Homemaking Party; Treasure Hunt Thursday; All Things Thursday Inspire Us Thursday; Inspire or be Inspired; Project Parade; Inspiration Gallery; Pure Blog Love; Favorite ThingsFreedom Fridays; Friendship Friday; From The Farm Blog Hop; Eat, Create, PartyPinworthy Projects Party;Farmgirl Friday;  Friday Flash Blog Party; Weekend re-Treat; Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Real Food Fridays; Friday FavoritesOld Fashioned Friday; Fridays Unfolded; Inspired Weekend; Show Off Friday; Craft Frenzy FridayFront Porch Friday; No Rules Weekend Party; Friday Favorites; Giggles GaloreSay G’Day SaturdaySuper Saturday; Simply Natural Saturdays;  Saturday Sparks;  Show and Tell Saturday;  My Favorite Things;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic SaturdayFrugal Crafty Home; That DIY Party; Nifty Thrifty Sunday; DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;  Simple Life Sunday; Think Pink Sunday; Sunday Showcase

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