Welcoming Honey Bees

Welcome Honey Bees!  I’ll have a sign,

I hope they think their new digs are fine.

I feel excited like Winnie the Pooh,

We’ll have lots of sticky honey,

for sweets and a cup of tea too!

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I painted the bee hive a lovely raspberry pink.  Welcoming but not over the top.  I have read several books.  I chickened out last year.  I went to a bee keeping class Sunday that reiterated everything I read in books.  I feel I know nothing!  But when I am holding that box of rumbling bees and their medieval queen, I assume that everything I have read and seen will come back to me.  That is the hope.

A year and a half ago we had a young man build us a top bar hive.  I got cold feet last year when I got the email that the bees were in after not having enough money to buy the bee keeping accessories so I sold the bees to the bee hive builder’s brother.  The hive sat over the winter and pieces of the wood are separating and expanding.  I should have sprayed it well with a protectant.  This year I painted it a spiffy color, and sprayed it with a coating that it is now well dried and should last, since once the bees move in I won’t be doing much creative maintenance to the outside of the hive.  It looks lovely.

It is under the large oak tree.  Typically one would like to face a hive south east to avoid our winds but that would face directly into the cars on the driveway.  South is the back yard, west is the goat yard, north is the neighbors house, east is the only way to face it.  The bees have two large gardens before they have to cross the street so hopefully they stop and play in the flowers instead of running into semis.  That wouldn’t be good.  The tree will provide shade while allowing bright morning sun to hit the bee apartment complex. In the winter the old oak tree will let in all the sunshine to make the little buggers happy.

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The books and the class are rather down on top bar hives.  Why?  No one has given me a straight answer but I am forced to take all the information I have stored and transfer it to a top bar hive.  Shouldn’t be too different.  These wooden blocks on the top have an edge that we rub beeswax on so that the bees will know to start their combs across the edges.  After ten wooden blocks are filled, the ones after have honey on them for us!

I will be stacking straw bales on the north side to keep the hive incognito from our neighbor.  Not that he cares, but he has a lot of friends that come over that might.  After a few beers, I certainly don’t want it to become a shooting range.

I have my smoker.  Supposedly the best material for burning is old coffee burlap sacks.  I believe Emily’s boyfriend’s family (being in the coffee business) can help me with that one.

Doug and I got two suits, jackets with zip up masks to keep our pretty faces safe from stings.  Don’t want to look like we got in a fight.  And thick gloves joined our artillery too.

Interestingly, there are over 890 types of bees in Colorado.  Most are stingless.  I did not know that.  In the class we were inspired to forget the image of Winnie the Pooh being chased by a swarm of bees.  While working in the hive, most will not care that we are there.  Just don’t wear fur.

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The thing that is keeping me from panicking this year is that at the end of last summer we were standing in a friend’s garden and I leaned over to see the herbs that were planted there.  It was a tiny garden in the city.  I glanced up and realized I was right in front of a bee hive.  Another one stood a few feet from me.  The gentle hum of working bees filled the air but they were so preoccupied (as I was) with the herbs that they had no interest in me.

In a few weeks, we welcome honey bees!

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Grow Where Planted

So, what would be the perfect homestead size?  5 acres?  20 acres?  100 acres?  A river running through it?  Near a library?  I am starting to wonder if instead of always thinking, ‘THAT would be the perfect homestead’ and then being frustrated because it is out of my reach, that perhaps I should look around where I am at.  I may very well have the closest-to-perfect-possibly-at-this-time-in-my-life homestead.

SAMSUNG  (Steve and Doug with baby goats)

We spend a fair amount of time at my friend, Nancy’s homestead because for our new business and lifestyle venture, Farmgirls-From the Homestead. (http://facebook/5farmgirls.com)  The goat’s milk is at her house (cause her goats are there!) so we make soap over there…and cheese….and go over there to view baby barn kitties and baby goats.  Very sweet.  She has a lovely forty acres, a red barn, horses milling in the fields.  Idyllic.

outdoor table (picture idea I took from the internet)

We started discussing our seemingly endless design of ideas for this year’s business venture ranging from multiple farmers markets, incorporating the idea and products into my current shop, The Garden Fairy Apothecary, teaching canning classes, bread baking classes, homestead tours, and Farm to Table dinners, all of which we will do this summer and fall.  We discussed the Farm to Table dinners for her property and found a level area that overlooks the hills and would be quaint and ethereal for a Farmgirl fancy dinner.  She mentioned that we could do one at my house too.  I was thinking….but I live in town.  Who wants to go to a Farm to Table dinner on the driveway?  But then it hit me…I live in town.  How many people live in town but are still interested in homesteading and making their way more self sufficiently but, like me, cannot and may never be able to afford acreage?  I live a mere three miles from Nancy, I am not in the city of Denver, but I do live in a neighborhood, on a busy street, with neighbors.  And a large garden, and a small orchard, with chickens, soon to be goats, and checking the zoning, alpacas.  I can turn the garage into a barn.  I could turn the yard in front of the porch, who’s grass has long since left us, into a magical apothecary garden and bee garden.  Swirly paths of bricks and oregano, sweet scents of rosemary and thyme, carpets of chives.  I could host the Farm to Table dinner in the driveway, next to the raised beds, in view of all of the farm animals.  I could place a long table in the back yard and eat with the chickens (not eat the chickens, I said, eat with the chickens!) and have a nice view of the fairgrounds.  Perhaps a rodeo will be going on.

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I mean, I may not be able to get the alpacas, and in some areas folks can’t even have chickens, but there are so many options we can do.  Bee hive?  Chickens?  Goats?  Garden?  Balcony garden?  Community garden?  Use less electricity?  Preserve food?  Use less water?  Walk more places instead of driving?  Crochet your own scarf?  Bake your own bread?  Smoke your own fish?  Grow your own herbs?  Plant an apple tree?  The sky is the limit.  And even in smaller quarters, there is always something we can do to be more self sufficient and homestead.

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Here on this homestead, I can have all the things I want, not have too much to keep up, and walk to the library.  The best of both worlds.

Classy Farmgirl….taking classes that is

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Learning new skills is exciting, like opening a new page in our books.  Expanding what we can do in our life and what we can do for ourselves.  Learning also means teaching.  I read somewhere that we have a responsibility to teach what we know, so the circle continues.  Besides libraries and educational institutions, there are other teachers out there.  We so often put off taking classes in favor of say….doing the dishes.  But, more talents and excitements await and are only a class away!

This year I took a soap class.  So much fun, I am sure you read about it!  And now I can proudly provide myself with clean soap.  Fabulous.  I took a spinning class…..I may need to take one or… fifty more.

An old client of mine sent an email yesterday.  She used to have a goat farm and is now teaching classes on how to make soft and hard goat cheese.  Now generally, I figure I can learn all I can in a book.  And most likely I will read a book and try to just go do it.  There are limits to this type of knowledge without a hands on teacher.  I was scared of lye.  Kathi helped me conquer it.  I do not have the slightest idea how to make fine goat cheese.  I have exhausted my way through restaurants attempting to try every type of goat and sheep’s cheese…ash filled, wine soaked, pasture raised, brie style, herbs de Provence chevre….oh my.  Now that we know what kinds of cheese we would like to make (all of them), beats me how to do it!  So, Julie is going to teach me.  This helps her too.  Farmgirls cannot survive on one income alone off the farm.  Multiple facets must be in place to “make it”.  Besides farm products and craft products, there are always people who want to learn what you know.

There are more classes in my very near future.  Agriculture classes at the college as well as writing classes (gotta get this book published!), Spanish classes, and more dance classes, because it makes my dance school better, all await my “eager for knowledge” mind.

In turn, I will continue teaching Certified and Master Herbalist classes, animal medicine classes, dance classes, and new this year, bread making and canning classes.

I will learn hands on how to tend to bees thanks for my friend, Brett.  I am interning with my friend, Deb, who is a master gardener to learn the ins and outs of gardening before I take the college ag courses.  I will be better suited by the end of this year for my homestead that is forthcoming….perhaps I will go from mini-farm to farm next year.

Goat cheese classes- http://godshowranch.com

Deb’s blog- http://lookingoutfrommybackyard.wordpress.com

My classes- http://gardenfairyherbal.com

Bee Keeping Mama (soon to be)

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There is a bee hive on the very tip top of the hundred-plus year old building across the street from my shop.  If you stand in my doorway you can see them busily working.  Among the ornate swirls of wood, they have made their home.  I have always had a fondness for Victorian architecture myself, can’t say I blame them.  Throughout the year we help them detour out of our shop.  Enticed, no doubt, by one hundred different types of herbs and the essential oils used in the beauty products, they come in for a sniff of the lotion or to seek an unexpected flower.  They always end back up by the window desperately trying to make their retreat.  Using a saucer and a paper cup I ease them into the vessel and set them back on track outdoors.  They have never stung us or any of our customers.  They just want to get back to work!

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Homeowners and shop owners call in the companies that guarantee your yard will be beautiful and sheepishly place those little yellow flags with the woman and child and dog with a slash through them (that doesn’t mean keep off the grass, it means it will kill you!); they usually have no idea what harm they are doing.  Doug was guilty of this himself, bringing in Weed and Feed trying to keep up with the neighbors in our old neighborhood.  We just didn’t realize the impact of such a simple thing.  Weed and Feed is available everywhere this time of year.  It does cause cancer and upper respiratory ailments in humans as well as wipes out birds and butterflies and lady bugs and….bees.  The lady who owns the building next to my shop loves to spray her yard.  There are always little yellow warning flags that the bees missed scattered throughout.  And at least three dead bees a day in front of my doorstep.  Many times the bees are disoriented and wander aimlessly in front of my store as if looking for directions to get across the street before their demise.  I could make myself crazy with thoughts of the Colony Collapse Disorder and all the Weed and Feeds on the market.  I could picket the girl next door.  Or I could combat this in a positive way.  By getting a bee hive.

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Luckily for me, my friends are going to help me.  Bryan just built me a beautiful bee hive to house the new family.  His seventeen year old brother, Brett, has been giving me a bee tutorial.  Since I learn by watching and doing, he will have to come back and walk me through it!  He keeps telling me, “Order your bees, or you’re not going to have any!”  I finally have the cash today so I will get online and order a family of bees with an Italian queen.  Feels rather medieval.  Brett is teaching me organic beekeeping.  I will not take too much honey so not to break into the bees’ store for winter.  I will let them flit to and fro from plant to plant and not scream and run when I see them.  I will not be afraid of bees on masse.  I am sure it will take a minute to get used to standing among hundreds of bees but my love for them will hopefully conquer any fears!  Only .01% of the population actually has  reaction to bee stings and I am not among that number.  I am just a bit of a baby when it comes to pain.  But saving the honey bee in any way I can is more important to me!  Offering a safe home to them in an area that doesn’t use many pesticides (love this town…it’s not the same town my shop is in) is going to be great and they in turn will pollinate my trees and garden.  I’ll keep you posted on this venture!

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