The pink leather notebook, fresh and empty of ideas, lay open upon the wooden breakfast table near the wood stove. Ideas flourished and manifested across the pages. The intensely planted garden of organic produce, the small dairy, the ducks, the chickens, the sheep, the goats, the bees, the homesteading school, the farmgirl classes, the herbal classes, […]
There wasn’t any honey to take because my bees died of starvation by all appearances. But the seventeen frames of wax ought to come in handy for salves, lotions, and candles if I could get them melted down. I planned on transferring the strained, melted wax into empty milk cartons. The milk cartons would act as molds and once the wax hardened I could simply peel off the paper and cut into useable pieces, yes? Ah, if only it were that easy.
I began with a pile of wax and filled one pot (that cannot ever be used again for cooking since it is permanently a wax cauldron. I made a double boiler by placing that pot into a big canning pot filled with boiling water (careful not to splash any water into the wax) and melted it that way so not to burn the wax.
It seemed like the combs were going down and I would add more. Pretty soon, I smashed and stirred and looked for wax and found none. The blackened combs just seemed burnt (before I put them in oddly enough) and they just fell down into a mass. If the wax was there it sucked back into the remaining combs. I thought the entire honey comb was wax. Am I wrong? I must be because hours later I only had half the frames in the pot and a pot half full of blackened mass, and about two teaspoons of wax.
I did eventually give up and placed the pot by the door with the wooden spoon which met its demise during this process as well. What happened? What did I do wrong? I still have about eight left but no pot to waste. The black parts of the comb make me wonder if that was normal, if I should have separated out the lighter comb. Did I give up too soon?
Oh who knows. The top bar hive I knew nothing about, the bees that came and passed, the black not-so-much wax, and a mere pint of honey out of all of it. I think we can consider my bee keeping venture a complete failure at this point.
Next year, we will try again.
The ebb and flow, the life and death, the frequency changes and seasons all so crisply clear when one lives on a farm.
The ducklings do not fail to bring smiles. Frolicking in their playpen in a casserole dish turned pond.
The farm dog lays under freshly mounded soil by the empty bee hive. Bumble passed away in the night. The quiet house without his tick-tick-ticking and the sight of him this morning haunts me still. Dumping the pile of dead bees in the compost. A weight pulls my heart. The dead chicken with suspicious slobber on her feathers. Death is real and constant.
The monastery of frogs chant from the pond beneath the full moon. The baby red winged black birds chirp madly in the greenhouse. The kittens play. The seedlings stretch to the sky, the sun on their limbs. The breeze brings on it blossoms from trees and the scent of dampened soil. Elsa’s side grows. Twelve more days until she kids. Bundles of fluff, lambs who think they are dogs, greet me with kisses and lean against my legs.
Relationships start. Unexpected, journeys change. Paths bring second thoughts, perhaps regrets. Marriages strengthen. Friends offer embraces. Words of wisdom and love over the telephone far away.
The Creator waits for our prayers of thanksgiving as we busy ourselves with endless internal chatter.
Wading through and finding peace in the respectfulness of death, the joy of birth and spring, and my spirit shall join the frogs in their meditation of all that is. Take a breath.
Spring is here and the journey continues.
A week ago we became suspicious. They had been flying here and there and buzzing in the trees fine a few weeks ago. I meant to get into the hive on the next nice day. The last really nice day may have been Easter and I didn’t do it. What made us wonder about the health of the hive was the fact that there were so many dead bodies on the front porch of the hive that a few were having trouble getting in and out. The icy wind kept howling and the temperature wasn’t quite right at all this past week so I just moved the door minimizer and used a stick to move some of the bodies out of the way. I suppose we were too late at that moment.
The air was cool yesterday morning as I gathered dandelion flowers. Doug came out and resolved that he would look in the hive. It seemed too cold but we had a dark feeling about it all anyway. He suited up and opened the roof of the hive and began to pull off each slat. Each empty slat.
Each slat had an empty honey comb on it. The closer he got the front we noticed the heavy combs were black. Not sure what that means. The combs were empty all the way to the front of the hive even though we had left them nearly twice as much as is recommended to get through winter (17+ frames after we decided to not get any honey). Apparently not enough.
It was a sobering sight to see six inches of dead bees across the bottom of the hive, piling out onto the front step of their village. The nanny bees died where they stood, stuck to the comb surrounding the last small section of brood. Died in place as if a great disaster in this medieval kingdom brought their lives to a stop in a just second’s time.
The hive was so prolific for most of the winter that they must have eaten more than a smaller village would. I should have checked earlier to see if I should supplement sugar water. Perhaps I could have saved them if I had checked on Easter.
There is no place for procrastination on a homestead. I should know this by now. Whether it is checking a bee hive, getting the produce harvested and preserved, getting a free load of wood to the house before someone else takes it. Homesteading is all about timing. One can so easily miss the window of opportunity. In the busy months of homesteading one ought to be prepared to be up until one in the morning canning, or drop everything to drive to Denver in a broken down truck to get precious wood, or be up at dawn watering the gardens. This life runs our schedule for the next three seasons and this loss only reminds me to pay attention and focus on each task as it calls.
Next time I will not use the top bar hive. I will buy a traditional Langstroth hive. There are so many more colorful, comprehensive books on the subject, and many more bee keepers to ask. Most folks didn’t know how to answer my questions because the top bar method is just not that popular.
Well, if life is all about learning, and a homestead is its own classroom then I have learned valuable lessons this week. But at the expense of a beautiful village.
The blue and red lights of a bored sheriff flew on as soon as we turned on the main road. We had barely gotten started, our precious load in the back, and we knew we hadn’t broken any traffic laws. The sheriff sidled up to the truck window, lifted an eye brow, and said calmly, “The reason I stopped you is because one of your license plate lights is out. It’s pretty dim.”
With all seriousness he said this.
Instead of blurting out, “Are you freaking kidding me?”, I gritted my teeth and replied calmly, “We have a bee hive in the back of the truck.”
“I don’t want to get stung!” he said. I have never seen law enforcement retreat that quickly.
The bee hive was in the back of the truck so we were already further ahead of where we were last week when Doug and I attempted to move it ourselves.
Have you ever had friends that have done so much for you that you will never in this lifetime pay them back? That would be my friend, Lisa, and her family. They showed up in the dark, probably preferring to be getting into bed with a nice cup of tea, and were ready to move our hive.
Lisa and I were friends with Nancy, the three of us loving all things homestead and simple. All of us wearing our aprons around town. Karaoke on Saturday nights at the coffee shop. Watching our children get married and have children. Friends like these are blessings. Her husband, Lance, has helped us fix plumbing and set up stoves, he has helped us move heavy items. Their sons helped us paint. Their son Bryan built our hive, their son Brandon is a photographer and has taken many special photos of various events in our life, their son Brett is our bee guru. At nearly nineteen he is the epitome of calm and composure, which is invaluable since around the bees, Doug and I are not.
They did not even bring suits. Lance, Brandon, Brett, and Doug worked together quickly to secure the hive. A piece of screen went in front of the door with the minimizer in front of it. Duct tape went around the hive to secure the roof. While putting duct tape across the door to secure the screen the whole door fell off and bees started flitting about and walking on Brett. Calmly the men walked away and we all sat chatting for about a half hour while the bees settled in again.
The hive was heavy enough that four men used all their strength to get it on the back of the truck. We placed it horizontally so that the combs wouldn’t swing when stopping and starting the truck. Straw bales surrounded it.
When we got it to the new farmstead the four men took it deftly off the truck and placed it in its new location facing the garden. Brett meticulously checked the outside of the hive, took off the tape, and then our friends left, travelling the long drive home late at night. Oh boy, do we owe them!
This morning the bees are cleaning house, taking dead bees out and looking for flowers. Tomorrow we will don our armor to get into the hive (as they will surely be irritated with us again; they ran us off the driveway last week after we tried to move them), and check to make sure that the combs are in place and that they are not any worse for wear. Hopefully Queen Victoria has made the long journey well. It certainly feels like we have a hive full of honey. I can hardly wait to sample our own Wild Herb Honey!
There has been so much activity in the medieval kingdom (our bee hive that is) that I thought I better have my friend and mentor, Brett, come over and translate what is going on. It has been four months since we first got our hive.
After donning our suits and smoking the hive entrance to hide our intruding scents, we opened the roof. Fifteen slats were being filled with comb, honey, and brood.
The bees have capped the comb over the brood. The flat clearer cells are worker bees and the puffier cells that are lower on the comb are drones. The drones are the only boys in the hive. They have one job, make out with the queen. Come winter they shall be ousted from the kingdom. All the workers are girls. It is definitely a matriarchal society in this village.
We also can see honey in the frames closest to the door. We will save fifteen slats for the bees to get through winter. Hopefully we can get a little wild herb honey for our winter tea.
August is a beautiful time on a farm. The daily rainfall (incredibly rare) has made this place look like an absolute Eden. Allow me to give you a tour in photos with your morning coffee.
This wouldn’t be Pumpkin Hollow Farm if there were no pumpkins. Princess orange pumpkins and green pinstriped pumpkins are quickly filling the front yard. Some have taken over the herbs. Some have volunteered in the back pasture and in the mulch pile with the help of our neighborhood birds.
We grow dozens of herbs for the medicines we make. Our bees need not scurry far as they are immediately drawn to the medicine gardens. Calendula (for mouthwash and skin conditions) mingles with Bidens Ticks (a strong anti-biotic when mixed with juniper berries). Blue Lobelia masquerades as a prim and proper flower when its real superpower is in opening airways and has a place in my asthma medicine. Funky red Monarda (also known as bee balm) is great in cold medicines and in my brain extracts. Another picture of fluffy calendula brightens up the herb garden.
The bees have been tremendously busy bringing in bloomers full of pollen from the sweet herbs surrounding them. Should we get a bit of honey this year it will taste of summer and herbs. Wild Herb Honey.
Such bounty we have received from our dear gardens. I was surprised to see that even though I stole their tomato cage and stopped watering them the shelling, snap, and snow peas all continued to grow. I shall try to extend their season next year. I did not expect them to survive through summer. The tomatoes are growing with a new vibrancy now that the sun has started to show hot on their beds. The green beans are irrepressible and the corn is taller than me.
Another thing taller than me is the mullein. We let it grow in the yard instead of mowing it down and it is a powerful tool in our artillery for everything from asthma, colds, nerve pain, and digestive disorders. This herb is a gift!
Another gift of August is chokecherries! So many people ask me what a chokecherry tastes like and I am ever surprised that a lot of folks have not tasted the sweet taste of chokecherry jelly. They are not eaten plain. A small bite will taste like a drying powder in the mouth. They are boiled with water and the juice is used to make a myriad of recipes from chokecherry tapioca to chokecherry pudding (an American Indian tribe Crow recipe eaten with deer jerky) along with chokecherry jelly that my grandmother used to make and my new favorite, chokecherry gin, that my friend Sandy made!
There is something magical about berry stained fingers. A sense of place and of the earth, the warmth of the day, an adorable helper, and the promise of goods to eat during the winter create a peace only found on farms.
Though we are as busy as our bee hive, we take time to see the flowers, smell the earth after rain, bask in the sunshine, and give thanks for nature’s gifts,
and fully enjoy summer for winter’s winds will be knocking on our doors before we are ready!
It looks like we live in a different state. We have had rain every day, so unusual for July, and the grasses are green. No fires, no drought, no hundred degree weather. It has been glorious. Other places in the state are dealing with too much water but here in our little oasis of Kiowa we are basking in perfect weather. The gardens and trees are drinking deeply and everything is serene.
We were able to grab a moment of warm sunshine to put our bee suits on and peek in the hive. The bees are working on their eighth frame in the top bar hive. The frames stretch across the entire frame now reaching the sides of the hive. The bees were very busy and completely covered the outer frame. I tried to pull a middle frame up to see if I could tell what was going on (Is there new brood? Is there honey capped? What else am I supposed to be looking for?) but couldn’t pull it all the way up. I was afraid of smashing bees or pulling apart the combs. I need my mentor to come over next time and show me what the heck we are supposed to be doing. But for the moment it was like looking into a magical world. The bees were calm and I have fallen in love with these gentle creatures.
We have two interns here that are just lovely people. They have been helping me immensely. The gardens were all weeded and mulched by yesterday afternoon and new seeds planted. We enjoy meals with them and talk about our ideas and dreams. We have been looking for a place to move that has a small house but more land. Renting has a definite downfall for me, I worry. I worry that I can’t renew my lease, or that I have to stay but for how long? Can I plant trees? Should I get attached to this quaint little house, my neighbors, this town? What if I miss my opportunity for a homestead? Dang, I wish I could buy a place. Turns out we have a choice to make. The homesteads we can afford to rent are way out in the prairie or far away towns. Or we can stay near our children and granddaughter. Not a hard decision to make. My friend, Lisa, came over one day and asked if we were going to farm the back part of the yard because we had fenced it off (for the goats). Suddenly while talking with Stephanie and Ethan, our interns, I realized that we could, with their help, transform that space. We could build a greenhouse. We could use permaculture techniques to up our food production. Hopefully we can stay on for a few more years here since nothing seems to be coming up in the form of larger place.
I have been reading a lot about permaculture and came across a film that fascinated me and a technique we will definitely try. It is a free documentary. Worth the watch! http://backtoedenfilm.com
I do hope your mid-summer farming is going well and you get a perfect mix of sun and rain!
Tank takes a “selfie”.
Henry Higgins impressing the ladies.
Buttercup enjoying the sun.
Watermelons starting to dream of summer.
Isabelle wanting more sweet feed.
Signs of the season.
Priya and Elsa playing together.
Irene, Nellie, Sylvia, and Cleo taking a break from standing in their water.
Six week old Priya playing among the sticks.
Today the bees are in a swarm around the queen. Hopefully they can get established!
Garlic coming up beautifully!
St. Francis keeping watch over the farm.
The Java ladies enjoying their new digs in the bathtub away from the ducks. They were tired of being drenched! Latte, Mocha, Macchiato, Espresso, and Decaf are so pretty!
Lettuce starts peeking through the soil. Hopefully they will be ready for market!
Twila having a snack in between causing mischief.
Welcome to the farm! Come by and visit!
I happened to be sifting through Facebook when I noted that my friend, Luis, who I went to the bee keeping class with was excitedly announcing that he was picking up his bees that morning. …What? I checked my email, but did not have an email telling me to do the same thing. Others were talking about their soon to be filled hives as well and I began to panic. I called the bee company and sure enough, mine were in a parking lot an hour away. I had until noon to retrieve them. Doug had just woken up and I was in a manic scurry. What do we do?? The bees are coming!!
Despite the books and the class and badgering my poor mentor, Brett, with questions, I felt completely unready. It did not feel like bringing home baby ducks. A bit more could go wrong with 10,000 new bees. I called Brett. What do we do?? The bees are coming!!
Brett is the epitome of calm and collected. He is a handsome, shy, eighteen year old who knows everything about bees. He would come over after he installed his three hives. I acted as if I were preparing for a baby to come home. What do I need? I pulled our bee jackets and veils from the packages and laid them out on the table. My bee keeping book useless to me at the moment since nothing I could find helped me figure out a top bar hive.
Do I need the smoker? Brett would see how the bees were, but probably not. (Too bad in hindsight, I still have no idea how to use it and I will have to go out and check on their sugar water!)
I made the sugar water as he instructed. 50/50 water and sugar until dissolved. Don’t burn it!
I filled a five gallon bucket with water near their hive and floated wine corks for balance.
I put the sugar water in a Tupperware container with lots of rocks and twigs so we don’t drown on our first day at the new digs.
The bees arrived in the back of the Volvo. Doug went by himself in case we had a few escapees and the baby in the back seat together. None did and they were pretty preoccupied with freeing the queen. Bees are ever so medieval. I rather love that.
Finally our knight in shining armors arrived. An unknowing neighbor looking on would suspect a fencing match or a trip to the moon with five of us wandering about in our bee suits. Brett and his father, Lance, got right to work with photographer brother, Brandon, helping and taking pictures at the same time. We were really much more in the way, so Doug took pictures as well and I stood nearby in the cacophony of bees taking in that mesmerizing sound. I was not scared in the least in my bee suit. They were not interested in me and I have never heard that many bees. It was really quite magical.
First they took off the can glued into the top that holds sugar syrup for the ride over the mountains. A few bees got out but gravitated towards the box. They did not want to leave the queen. A few got crushed when the cardboard came down and covered the hole.
The queen was dangling in a box anxious to see her new kingdom. It was held onto the carton of bees by a piece of metal. Brett deftly (in large leather gloves even) took the box and stapled it to one of the top bars with a staple gun. This was after he took out the cork and replaced it with a tiny marshmallow that the workers can eat through.
One wouldn’t release the queen immediately as the kingdom may not be pleased and promptly kill her. It takes awhile for her scent and the bees to all get to know each other and realize that they are family. By the time the marshmallow is gone, it will be like they were never apart.
Now at this point we were taught to bang the box down so all the bees fall to the bottom then dump it upside down into their new apartment complex. Brett finds it easier to cut the screens with a sharp knife rather than try to fit everyone through the hole on top.
Then they are turned upside down and literally poured into the hive. If you could envision the sound of a “pfoomph”. And the bees were in. Now they are everywhere and Brett and Lance carefully replaced the top bars.
Immediately the bees went to work. Some had their backsides in the air calling the bees home that had run off. Some were cleaning the dead bees out of the hive that didn’t make it. The clamor of bees making a home was fascinating. They had no interest in us whatsoever. Just in making their new pink house a home.