Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012! The End? No...Just Another Beginning.

It's almost time to get seedlings started for the garden. I waited too long last year to get tomato and pepper seedlings started for the garden. This year I'm going to start them in February so that they're well along come May.

My good friend Harvey Ussery had his book, The Small Scale Poultry Flock, published by Chelsea Green. If you are at all interested in raising chickens, ducks, or geese I highly recommend his book.

I'm not a big hunter by any means. I usually take a deer or two (almost always does) for the freezer. This year I decided to keep the hides and to try my hand at tanning them. I purchased Deerskins into Buckskins and I have found it to be a very straight forward reference for home tanning. My hope is to create soft buckskins that I can have made into gloves. I'm thankful for what the deer provide and it makes me feel good to use as much of what the deer provides as possible.

Last year I saved about two dozen primary feathers that my tom turkey shed during the moult. I researched the making of quill pens on the internet and fashioned the feathers into quill pens. This past fall I gathered up a few pounds of black walnuts and allowed them to dry completely. I threw them into an old stock pot and boiled them over a campfire outside. After about 24 hours total, the whole mixture had been rendered down into a very serviceable ink. I'll post some pictures of the pens, the ink, and the awesome inkwell I found as soon as I can.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nice Flush of Shiitake Mushrooms

Last week I took the opportunity to soak a few of the mushroom logs I innoculated last year. After about 5 days of waiting the first flush has begun to emerge. These little fellows are delicious. Check 'em out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Apitherapy is the medical use of honey bee products. This can include the use of honey, pollen, propolis, royal jelly, and bee venom

Well in my case it relates solely to the use of bee venom. A little over a week ago I started having lower back problems again. Not to bore anyone with my medical history but my lower back hurts and makes regular life quite difficult when it begins to act up. I, unlike most people, have ready access to honeybee venom. I limp out to the apiary in the front yard, grab a half dozen worker bees one at a time and hold them to my waistline above the spot where the pain is. Generally it takes only a second or so until the bee stings me. I leave the stinger in for about 5 minutes to deliver the entire venom load and it's warm (albeit temporary) relief. People look at me incredulously when I tell them about my treatments. "You did what?!" is the typical comment. I respond by telling them that pain, if severe enough, is a potent motivator to try new methods of treatment. I have no systemic allergy to bee stings and it's important to mention that until you know if you do, intentionally stinging yourself with bees is a potentially lethal thing to do. The sting from a single bee, if you have an undiagnosed allergy, can lead to anaphlaxis and death without prompt medical attention. For the vast majority of people though, bee stings are a painful, itchy nuisance but that's all. I have found relief from some of my back pain through the use of bee stings. Apparently the pain is relieved by the bodies' reaction to the area of the sting. The effect is similar to acupuncture in that you are stimulating the body's own systems to relieve pain.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Donielle in the Bees

Now here's something you don't see everyday. Donielle in the bees! It's a little known fact that not only does she handle most of the marketing and delivery for Fern Hill Apiary but she's also a very capable beekeeper in her own right. I recently found myself out of commission due to back problems. Since the nectar flow waits for no man (or woman) Donielle threw on her veil and added honey supers. To my great surprise the honey supers I put on just last week were all full and nearly completely capped. It has been a banner year for black locust blooms. One of the best blooms I've ever seen. Often you'll get a decent bloom but then a couple days of rain washes the nectar out of them and it's all for naught. This looks to be a good honey harvest year.

Last week I got a call at work from Donielle saying one of our colonies was swarming and that she was going to split them. A split is nothing more than making one colony into two. By the time I got home she had the new split moved into a different bee yard and the bees were getting oriented to their new home. Kudos D!


Successful Apple Grafts

Last fall I tried my hand at grafting fruit trees for the first time. I purchased (10) M-7 apple root stocks from One Green World ( in Oregon. I have Gravenstein and Esopus Spitzenburg heirloom apples that I'm training to a trellis in the front yard (a technique known as espalier).

I took several branch trimmings from each tree and grafted the leaf buds from them onto the root stocks. The union where the scion (the trimming from the tree you hope to grow) meets the root stock must be sealed to hold the graft in place and hold moisture so the union doesn't dry out. I used Parafilm tape but you could also use beeswax, string, or plastic food wrap. Success or failure is determined by whether the buds begin to leaf out in the spring. Well, I'm happy to report that the majority of the grafts did take and have leafed out very nicely. My goal is to graft at least three and hopefully four varieties of apple onto each root stock and to espalier these as well. Five of the trees are planted in buckets because I hope their eventual home to be the orchard in my son's former school, Mountainside Montessori.

Note: Grafting isn't difficult but it does require a little technique. If you're interested in trying it I'd recommend a grafting workshop hosted by someone who has done it. If that's not an option you could learn it as I did from any of the excellent videos on YouTube.


Monday, May 9, 2011

A Very Large Swarm of Bees

While I was out in the garden on Mother's Day a very large swarm of bees departed one of the hives and began to settle down on a small oak tree in the yard. The swarm was way above my head but I was able to capture it by setting up some scaffolding and then placing a step ladder on top of that. I took two nuc boxes full of wax foundation and placed it on top of the ladder and then shook the swarm down into the box. Well, that was the plan. I ended up shaking about 1/3 of the swarm onto the front of my shirt but I didn't receive a single sting. After a few hours the bees were completely inside the boxes I had set up for them and I moved them over to the main apiary after dark.

This was pretty large as swarms go. It was about 4 feet long and I'd estimate it to weigh around 4lbs. I was very happy to have recaptured them. They should have the new boxes of foundation completely drawn out in a few days. Swarms are comb-drawing machines!


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Life and Death...We all have to eat.

So the Friday before Easter our last remaining hen hatched out 6 new chicks. One of the chicks died shortly after hatching which is quite common but the remaining 5 are plugging along. I put them in the pasture shelter in the front yard and momma takes them all under her wings at night and keeps them warm. They're very cute and a lot of fun to watch. The little ones learn a lot from watching mom. She'll find bugs for them and crunch the bug so it can't get away and drop it in front of them. They compete totally and run around with food in their beaks trying to keep it away from their siblings until they can eat it.

Well, the only problem with being a cute little chick is that a lot of things would like to eat you too. Donielle came home today to find the turkeys going nuts and momma hen squawking like crazy. She went over to find a medium-sized black rat snake had taken one of the chicks. Black snakes are constrictors who normally eat mice, birds, and bird eggs. A tiny little chick is right on the menu. The snake had already suffocated the chick so Donielle removed the snake with the chick still in its coils and took it into the woods to finish its meal. I've heard of people taking mice and rabbits away from snakes to 'punish' them. That's ridiculous. Snakes consume many, many mice that would otherwise get into everything we hold dear. Mice are cute in someone else's house but not in one's own. I'd much rather have the snake. Anyway...this photo shows the snake just finishing up. The 'bulge' is quite prominent. I'll miss the little chick but we all have to eat. Snake 1 Chick 0

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Catching a Swarm

So while I was away this morning helping a friend with a project, one of our honeybee colonies decided to swarm. A swarm is when a colony divides itself naturally with about 1/2 of the workforce leaving the hive in a matter of seconds, taking the queen with them. Usually they perch on a branch while they find a new home which can take a day or two. At our place the majority of swarms choose branches that are way too high up to safely reach. This VERY large swarm chose a highbush blueberry tree very low to the ground. These are the ones you love to catch.

In this video I'm shaking the bees off of the branch and into a box filled with combs that I've set up underneath it. Newly issued swarms are generally so docile that you can put your hand into them without fear of being stung. I did so with this one to show one of my son's friends that it was indeed possible. After the swarm drops into the box there will be a period of confusion as the bees get reorganized and hopefully begin fanning at the entrance to indicate that they accept this as their new home. Enjoy.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 28, 2011

Plugging Logs

So Saturday I headed down to Louisa, Virginia to the home of Dan Boone (7th Generation from the original guy) who hosted a blacksmithing Hammer In at his home. A Hammer In is a get together for blacksmiths. It's kind of like a meeting of beekeepers except that instead of thousands of stinging insects you play with red-hot metal and shape it with a hammer. I could explain more but if you don't understand the allure of it nothing I can write is probably going to make a difference.

After leaving there I headed over to Cismont, Va to Sharondale Farm. Sharondale is run by mycologist Mark Jones who, among other things, propogates various types of mushrooms and inoculates sterilized sawdust that can be used to grow mushrooms at home. The process is quite simple. I bought several bags of spawn from Mark for shiitake mushrooms. The 'spawn' is nothing more than sterilized sawdust on which the mycelium for a specific strain of mushroom has been started.

Starting with freshly cut (though aged several weeks) hardwood log/branch sections, numerous holes are drilled into the logs with an angle grinder that has been fitted with a special drill bit. Once the hole is drilled, a plunger is 'loaded' with spawn by repeatedly stabbing it into the sawdust until the plunger tube is full. The plunger is positioned over the newly drilled hole and the handle is pressed down firmly ejecting the spawn plug into the hole. The hole is then capped with warm cheese wax to prevent dehydration and then the log begins to sit. It will take the logs 6-9 months to become fully colonized with the filaments of shiitake fungus before the log begins to 'fruit'. The fruit I speak of is what we recognize as a mushroom. Ninety percent of a fungal colony is hidden inside a substrate of some kind. The ground, trees, etc. It's only the fruiting body, the mushroom, that we see. Mushrooms exist to release the billions of spores produced so that the whole process can begin anew at some other location.

The 'Y' strain I purchased from Mark comes with a hearty recommendation. It supposedly produces abundant flushes of delicious mushrooms and is a reliable producer in our area. Time will tell.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

More Projects

As spring begins to ramp up I have eagerly bit off more than I can chew, as usual. On Friday I drove out to visit the forge of my new friend, and world-class blacksmith Nol Putnam. He graciously allowed me to watch as he split a piece of iron bar stock for a project he's working on.

Back at the house I'm working slowly, but steadily on a small forge setup of my own. I've decided to locate the forge in a small shed away from what will be the garage/shop/barn for reasons of fire safety. It also means it will be ready more quickly and that I can get going on a few things. I'd like to see if the boys would be interested in hammering a little iron themselves. I know it sounds a little quaint but I think it's important for young men to have 'manly' things to do. We live in a society where opportunities for adolescents to prove themselves evoke images of stupid stunts ending in injury, property damage, or tragedy. Put in a little time in the forge and you might build some muscles, get some energy out, and make something useful.

I checked on the bees on Friday and was pleased to see that to this point we've lost only about 3 over the winter. It's to be expected that you will lose colonies over the winter for a number of reasons. Sometimes you lose them and never know the reason. Check back soon and I'll be posting some pictures of the projects in progress.