Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

You bought what?

We have honey to bottle, a honey workshop to finish building, hives to inspect, a house to build, so I was surprised to find out that Hubby got a great deal on wood ware for the apiary and had placed our biggest order yet. the two thousand and five hundred frames shown above is only part of the shipment.

In addition to the frames, we have 250 8- and 10-frame deep boxes to be assembled and painted, so our winter weekends will be busy! We ran out of 8-frame deeps this year and are close to running out of 10s, so we do need the equipment to continue the growth we are grateful to be experiencing. It’s just such a big stack of wood! As always when it comes to growing the business, Hubby is the engine, and I am the brakes. It works well as we balance each other out, especially as in the Progressive Insurance commercials, I am turning into my parent (dad) as far as spending goes and would never take any risks!

The shipment arrived through Yellow Freight, but as they are too big to turn around on our property we would have had to offload everything out on the road — the country road with a 55 mph speed limit and blind corners from both directions. Hubby therefore picked up the shipment in LaGrange. As his brother’s big trailer is two feet lower than loading dock, it took some maneuvering to get everything transferred, but the staff at Yellow Freight were incredibly helpful. The office staff had already bent over backwards to accommodate pickup times to fit Hubby’s work schedule and then two days of stormy weather.

Our biggest problem came with off-loading everything once it arrived here. We were expecting six pallets, each of which we could have unloaded with our tractor. It arrived on three pallets, one of which was stacked higher than I am tall. We had fun moving that one into the workshop as Hubby could only see my hands waving above the load to give directions! And I was standing on tip-toes.

So….. Hubby rented a Bobcat, picked it up, and then couldn’t remove the bucket to attach the forks because the quick-release handles were damaged. That led to my first adrenaline-filled experience of guiding him (backwards) onto a trailer that had only a couple of inches clearance on either side. He took it back, found out that they shop knew about the damage, and is awaiting replacement parts. They next morning, he picked the same Bobcat up again, and followed the instructions they gave to remove the bucket — with their assurance that we would not be liable for any damage caused in the process. After that, it took very little time to move everything into the shop, just ahead of the next round of storms.

Surprisingly, my second Bobcat-loading guidance went incredibly well and Hubby got the Bobcat back onto the trailer very quickly. Hubby always impresses me when he works with equipment like this.

So while life may be a little crowded in the workshop again, it is still very, very good on the farm. As the current weather forecast predicts rain on and off all day, I’m heading to the predictable conditions in the RV to bottle some honey, so it will also be a very sweet day.

Chickens · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary

The chicks move in to their new quarters

We love the variety in our Ameraucana chickens. The white one with brown wings likes to crow like a rooster, although she hasn’t done that since she got all this extra space to roam around in. She’s pretty bossy and there’s a 10% chance that she’s actually male according to what I’ve read about sexing baby chicks. I guess we’ll figure that out over the next couple of months and then we’ll have a decision to make. Roosters can be pretty hard on chickens and I really don’t want any more chicks for a couple of years. Twelve chickens will provide more eggs than we’ll need, but we’ll also be happy to share with friends.

So the chicken run gate finally came in and we were able to move the small coop into its new position. We first partitioned off the run about halfway down and I caught and moved 6 of the pullets. The other four went into the coop, so they took a ride as Hubby and I maneuvered the small house into place as gently as we could. The ones I was able to catch made the transition very quickly and went to work eating the oregano. The ones that traveled took about 30 minutes to exit the coop. One cautiously stepped down down (and back up, and back down) for a while, but the others shot out like they had been fired from a t-shirt cannon once that first one moved into the run and joined their sisters.

All of them took to the roosting bars very quickly and by day two became quite adept at flying from one to the other. Meanwhile, the two older girls were very vocal from their side of the chicken wire for the first hour, but they have settled down now. We’ll let the pullets get a little bigger and then frame a doorway between the two runs and let them share the space.

We did not predator-proof the extension to the extent that we did the original run, but we do have chicken wire in the ground and I will complete the rock garden around all of the fencing soon. We may need to add another nesting box to the original coop, but we planned for that when we did the original framing so it will be a relatively easy addition. We will see if the three nesting boxes on the big coop and the three new ones on the small coop will suffice first. I know the original girls are picky about which nesting box they use and typically share the same one, so I’m not going to try to predict what any of them are going to prefer.

The two old girls have either found some motivation from seeing their replacements or they have recovered from the trauma of seeing their sister snatched away from them by a predator and they are back to each producing a daily egg. I am still feeding them yogurt-covered greens and adding apple cider vinegar to their water. I add apple cider vinegar or Hydro Hen more frequently this time of year anyway as they have to drink so much more when the weather turns hot. Hydro Hen also acidifies their water and helps them fight off yeast infections according to what I’ve read over the past few weeks.

I’ll be back soon to blog about the pallets full of wood-ware parts that Hubby just picked up from Yellow Freight. We’ll have plenty to keep us busy all winter, and we’re not even officially in summer yet. Life is never boring on the farm, and it is, as always, good.

Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Products and Vendors

First 2021 Honey Extraction

Honey Extractor

We knew we had a good amount of honey in the hives, but we were not expecting quite as much as we found yesterday. We extracted 2.5 5-gallon buckets of honey , and we still have half-capped frames in some hives. The first sourwood tree is about to burst into bloom, so if we get some decent rainfall over the next three weeks, we’ll have even more before the season ends.

While weather is always the biggest factor in honey production, the clover we have seeded over the past five years is also a contributing factor to our record harvest. I mow the areas with clover every two weeks, alternating fields to ensure that the bees always have something blooming. I set the mower to the highest setting so that I’m only deadheading spent blooms, and I water the densest sections every couple of days. Clover roots go deeper than most grasses, so the plants are both good erosion. They also put nitrogen into the soil, so they help the grass that we have planted with them. The slopes where we have established clover are far greener than the areas where the clover is just getting started.

I was just searching electric honey extractors and saw a search for “Are electric honey extractors worth it?” We are still using our hand-crank, 9-frame extractor, and at around 2:00 pm yesterday I would have said an emphatic “Yes!” However, the cost on anything that meets our needs exceeds our honey revenue. I’m hesitant to spend that much money on something that will just sit in a corner for most of the year, but I’m sure that will change as we grow the business while growing older. It sure was a good cardio and strength-training session yesterday, and it’s nice to be able to do all that an not be in pain today. That adds to my hesitancy to spend over a thousand dollars.

Talking about spending money — honey bottles have gone up since fall and the ones we usually use don’t have caps available, even in colors I don’t much care for. Once we fill the last of the bottles we bought in fall, we’ll be switching to honey bears. It will be interesting to see how the customers react to them. Like some of the soaps that are not really my taste (too highly scented) they may do better. We’ll see.

Well, I have some cleanup to do in our temporary honey kitchen. Next year we will be in the one that is currently under construction. It will be nice to have room to move around and equipment placed for optimal work flow, even if that equipment does require lots of manual labor!

Life is good, and very, very sweet, here on the farm.

Lazer Creek Apiary

A Little Bit of England and Mail Order Chickens

Bluebells

When we first moved here, I planted a few bluebells. Well, some are pink and others are white, but they will always be bluebells in my mind. Some have moved from their original location as we’ve landscaped — it’s always fun to see where they will pop up each spring — but the ones in the picture have been undisturbed for five years are are starting to look very healthy. My dream is that that they will spread down the slope and make it look like the woods in England. I didn’t think that would happen until we went to Callaway Gardens yesterday and got to see bank after bank of them thriving in partial shade. There is hope after all! While there, we also decided to start planting native shrubs on our slopes and to add the miniature iris that grow along one of my favorite South Carolina hiking trails that I’d forgotten about. There’s no point in trying to recreate the garden of my childhood in the heat here, but at least there are some plants that are quite happy to revive memories. We need to make regular trips to Callaway Gardens for inspiration and encouragement. Hubby may even convince me to build a pond after all.

As for chickens….. we decided we want to add 3 – 4 more chickens to the flock as our current three can’t keep up with our breakfast consumption. For a couple of weeks, we’d call Tractor Supply to verify that they had chicks available, make the drive, and find empty cases when we got there. (Well, there were some Turken one time, but they look like miniature Turkey Vultures, and I don’t want them following me around the farm wondering when I’ll turn into road kill.) We grew tired of fruitless hour-long round trips and ordered ten chicks (the minimum) through Tractor Supply but shipped directly from the hatchery. The chicks are now three weeks old and growing faster than the ones we bought from the feed store last year. Even at two weeks old they were escaping the brooder tub we have them in — something the others didn’t do until the sixth week. I’d include a picture, but they move so quickly I haven’t been able to get one worth sharing yet. We may give a couple of the chicks away as 13 is probably more than we need, but we’ll get them old enough to move outdoors first.

In other farm news, we’ve caught our first swarm of the year and came through winter with 27 healthy hives. We’ve made a few splits already and it looks as if this year will be much better for bee and honey production. We had a late frost followed by a long, dry spell last year that reduced our honey harvest by over 50%. We already have a long list of customers wanting honey as soon as we have some, so we’re hoping spring continues to be our friend. The blackberries had just started to bloom when we got the frost last year, and they are looking much better this year. Our Dutch White Clover is also now well established and bloomed late fall and started blooming again a few weeks ago. All of that should help.

The chickens have been digging up Japanese Beetle larva and spend a good deal of time under the bee hives eating what I hope are small hive beetles. Keeping all thirteen would be worth it if they can reduce the pests around the hives and the garden, and I’m sure friends wouldn’t mind taking a few eggs off our hands now and then. I made the mistake of letting them into the vegetable beds to eat bugs over winter and then had to figure out how to keep them out once I started planting. It only took an hour for them to decimate the broccoli early winter and they were a little too excited to see the asparagus emerging a few weeks ago. So now it’s harder for me to get into my garden, but plants stay where I put them unless the cat decides to rearrange things.

Most of the lavender cuttings that I wrote about in January are putting on new growth, so that’s one more thing to celebrate. I am so looking forward to having a lavender hedge along the driveway.

Yes, life remains good on the farm. Today is the last day of spring break, and it’s going to be hard to head back indoors tomorrow. Thankfully we have a few hours of daylight in the evenings again so I’m sure I’ll be able to adjust.

Bees · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

Lavender Cuttings and Honey

Back in fall, I read a post on Pinterest that recommended using honey as a root stimulator. The link to that post is no longer active, but I did find another resource from Gardening Know How this morning. I believe the recipe I used listed two tablespoons of honey, while this one only uses one, but I may be wrong.

I really didn’t think this would work, but I tried it anyway, using honey that I didn’t want to bottle because it came from cleaning wax cappings. I mixed the honey and water in a mason jar, pulled leaves off lavender cuttings and scored the stems a little and then dropped them into the mason jar while I continued my search for leggy lavender. Most of the cuttings therefore soaked in the honey water for at least 20 minutes before I unceremoniously stuck them into a planter.

Lavender Border – Freshly Mulched

When the sun finally came out last weekend, my patience ran out and I just had to dig up the first cutting! To my surprise, it had around 3 inches of roots from all around the stem. Not all of the cuttings were quite that successful, but every one had enough of a root system to transplant it. I thought briefly about moving them to individual pots for another six months of babying, but the more cuttings I dug out with fantastic roots, the more work that seemed to be. We now have an additional 30 plants along the driveway. Now, not all of them may survive, but the exciting thing for me is that every cutting had roots. In the past, I’ve had anywhere from a 50 – 75% success rate using the same process but with store-bought chemicals.

I dug up two gardenia cuttings yesterday, but those are not yet as successful. Still, gardenia cuttings have always taken longer to root and had a lower success rate than many of the other plants I’ve propagated. I moved them from the greenhouse to outdoors and will leave them alone until the weather turns hot. At that point, they’ll stand a better chance of surviving in individual pots or in the ground. When I transplant them, I’ll douse them with honey water to give the roots another helping hand – maybe.

Bees on Calendula

Spring is in the air for the bees, too! The pollen feeder and syrup feeders are abuzz and the lonely calendula blossom above was covered in bees all day long. I sowed calendula seed too late last year but managed to get a handful of plants started in pots. They have bloomed throughout the winter and survived temperatures as low as 23 degrees. Not only are they a great resource for bees at a time when not much else blooms, calendula blossoms are reputed to aid healing for a variety of skin conditions. I use calendula blossoms in the anti-itch salve that I make and have used calendula-infused olive oil in one batch of soap so far. I hope to get enough growing this spring to have plenty for the bees and me to share. From what I’ve read, calendula will readily self-seed and grow in even the poorest soils, so I just need to get some going, leave some flowers to go to seed, stop the chickens from eating them, and stop the cat from digging them up to poop in the flower pots!

Well, the sun is out and the thermometer is rising, so it’s time to leave the computer and head outdoors! I don’t think I’ll be throwing any more mulch around with a pitchfork today, but there are some less strenuous garden and bee chores I can tackle. There are always plenty of reasons to get out an enjoy the sunshine here on the farm, and there will be time enough to do laundry after sunset.

Lazer Creek Apiary · Soap

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays to all of you, and, of course, wishing everyone a healthy and happy new year.

What a year it’s been! Just the fact that I haven’t blogged since September says a lot, but we consider ourselves very lucky to have been employed and able to pay our bills during this time of COVID 19. We’ve stayed healthy but the steady stream of COVID news intermingled with negative political adds have given me writer’s block. I have, however, become somewhat addicted to making soap!

We have not bought a bar of soap since our schools switched to virtual classes in March. I used melt-and-pour base for my first attempt, and overcame my nervousness about using lye soon after. Like many other things, one can never be careless around lye, but I have my work flow in place and know how to stay safe. Part of being safe is being cognizant of my ability to focus, and I don’t make soap on days when I’m tired, distracted, or irritated. Irritated and sweating into my glasses is a bad mix, and wearing a mask and googles isn’t even comfortable in cool weather. To reduce the time I’m suited up, I now measure all my oils and any additives before I put my protective gear on. Hubby also bought me a face shield, which eliminates much of the foggy glasses problem. It’s hard to read the scale to weigh lye when I can’t see!

I have been using pretty silicone molds since March, and people like the designs. However, I used my new soap loaf mold yesterday and am sold on the simplicity and lack of mess! One batch of soap from my current favorite book fills the mold, and the mold has a silicone lining. That’s something I’ve come to see as essential.

I had a wooden mold that needed to be lined with parchment paper, and I used it once to form a block of soap that I’d reconstituted. The original soap just didn’t smell good, so I dissolved it in distilled water, cooked it as a hot process soap in the crockpot, added some scent that came with soap making set, and poured it into individual molds and the wooden mold. The soap had a high water content, but I figured it would dry out eventually. I wasn’t confident in my parchment cutting ability, so I lined the mold with plastic wrap and parchment paper. Pretty soon, I noticed a small amount of soap leaking from the bottom, so I put the mold into the sink for safe keeping. Never, ever do that! The next day I had semi-solidified soap in the drain and both sides of the sink were completely blocked. Hot water, baking soda, elbow grease, and the kind of persistence that comes from not want to tell Hubby what I’d done this time solved the problem. As an added bonus, the RV’s sinks, bathtub, and toilet were all sparkling clean from all the soapy water I bailed out of the sink and into buckets before pouring it into everything that had a drain. If you ever want a great tricep workout, plunge a kitchen sink over the course of a couple of hours.

Soap making has now led to an interest in essential oils. People want scented soaps, and I don’t want to use chemical scents, so essential oils are the way to go. However, essential oils are expensive. I made one batch of soap using a strong basil-leaf tea and lemongrass oil. It smelled good, but maybe not strong enough for customers, so I’m now dehydrating herbs from the garden and putting them aside to make infused oils as I need them. As we work our way through the fund-raiser box of oranges we bought, I’m dehydrating the peels and will make orange oil once I have a jar full. Because we’re so limited on space, we purchased a small dehydrator for now. It’s working well, although I will probably buy a larger one with a timer once we the honey-house is built.

I’ll save blogging about the bees for another day, but I will say that the health of our hives is one more thing that we have been blessed with this year. Honey harvests were down in general across Georgia, but the bees packed a lot of honey in during the fall flow and and set up well for winter.

In addition to all our other blessings, I can currently see a beautiful sunset from the office window, giving me one more reason to be glad I came in here to update the blog. It’s going to be a cold night, and cold all day day tomorrow, but this sunset almost makes that worthwhile. I used up 4 more oranges on a fantastic new chicken recipe this evening (only 20++ more to go), and we get to live on our beautiful farm. Life remains good on the farm.

Canning · Cooking · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

At least the chickens are happy…..

Tomato Soup

This seems like an awfully small amount of soup for all the deseeding, chopping, cooking, pureeing, and dirty dishes, but the chickens are ecstatic about the bowl of seeds they received this morning. Now the soup does taste good and nowhere near as sweet as canned soup (how much sugar do they add anyway?), and it’s made from tomatoes and basil from my garden, but it’s barely enough for me, never mind both of us! I guess I’ll need at least 6 pounds of tomatoes next time — and I need a better mixture of tomato plants next year so that I have some large tomatoes!

Last week’s batches of butternut squash soup and leek-and-potato soup were much more satisfying with about the same amount of time yielding multiple jars of each. The squash is from my brother-on-law’s garden and the leeks from the grocery store. I also have canned and frozen squash for winter, so we’ll have some healthy options for quite some time.

The summer garden seems to be fading, and my thoughts are turning to fall and winter crops. Carrots worked well last year, and I’m going to add spinach and lettuce. I remember spiders crawling our of spinach that a friend in Germany gave me, and I remember small slugs on the lettuce on school lunches, but I’m trying hard to not let my mind go there! We’re setting up an outside sink to wash veggies before they come inside, so that should solve some of the problems.

We did finally get to harvest honey in late July. We have a lot less than last year, but that seems to be a problem across Georgia and even my friend’s hives in England. We strained our honey into three buckets and each tasted very different: one was similar to last year’s, one had a spicy undertone, and the other was a little lemony. They are all mixed together in the keg right now and we’ll start bottling soon. The pollen and nectar dearths are definitely on, but the bees are still doing well. We are supplemental feeding to build their strength up before the fall nectar flow and hope to go into winter with strong hives full of natural resources.

The chickens may be happy with all the tomato, squash, and melon seeds they are getting, but they are not happy enough to give us any eggs yet! They are checking out the nesting boxes and have started kicking the fake eggs out, so I guess that’s progress. Their combs and wattles are red, and they are making even more noise than usual, so all the signs are there, just no eggs….. As they are hiding the fake eggs from me, I don’t even have the millisecond of excitement from seeing them twice a day before realizing what they are. At least I no longer get excited over seeing the golf balls!

Houdini, the kitten that adopted us and escapes cages, is finally letting us touch her so long as food is involved. She happily plays with both dogs, but keeps her distance from the other cats. The dogs love playing together, but remain a little jealous when it comes to sharing their people with each other. Belle is learning the house rules, but still just has to chew on a wooden spoon or something to remind us that puppies are impulsive.

Hubby is already back at work, albeit closer to home, and I will soon have to adjust to not spending all my days on the farm. Equal parts of me look forward to seeing my students again and long to just stay home with the critters and the garden. My body has been getting plenty of exercise, but it will be good for my brain to start doing some mental gymnastics again! Life is good on the farm, but I do love my job….