Beekeeping: A Short, Cautionary Tale, From a Beginner

, , , , , , , , , , ,

In recent weeks I have thought of the need to add a 5th box to the bee hive; I have been seeing many bees congregating at the hive entrance, and was worrying that they might have expanded to fill the available volume, and bee looking to swarm.  Since Nathan was around as an able assistant, having helped me to add the 3rd and 4th boxes back in June, the time to add the 5th box had come. After adding the 3rd and 4th boxes, I summarized the event in a blog post by stating, “The process of adding the boxes went more smoothly than I probably had any right to expect; it was executed without incident.”  As it turns out, I indeed did not have any right to expect that it would go so smoothly.
Read more

Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part III, Beekeeping

, , , , , , , , , , ,

The initial bee install took place the weekend of 5 April 2014, and I added a box to the hive the weekend of 12 April, as documented in the post, “Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part I,” dated 23 May 2014.  I checked on the bees regularly, and there was plenty of activity, with bees coming and going, and the bees were carrying in loads of pollen from their foraging activities.  The hive appeared to be very healthy.  I knew that I should be adding more boxes to the hive, and as the weeks went by I became more and more anxious that the colony might swarm because there was insufficient space in the hive for the growing colony.  Finally, adding the boxes rose to the top of my work list, and coincidentally Nathan was available to help me in the process.

Nathan (L) and I suiting up, inactive hive box after step 1 just to my right in the background

Read more

Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part I

, , , , , , , , , , ,

It has been almost 8 weeks since I made a post, and I offer my humblest apologies; really, there has been little to write home about.  Well okay, perhaps, just maybe, that is a not entirely true statement.  Actually, the homestead has been a veritable hive of activity, in fact our life has been very busy over the past several weeks, and that level of activity seems likely to continue into mid-June.  And, it is wearing on me a bit that I have two blog posts to complete, “Warré Bee Hive Construction – Part II,” and “Winter 2013/2014: Lessons in Hardening Homestead Electrical, Potable Water, and Heating Systems.”  I will get to those eventually, promise.

Meanwhile, I will start where I left off, at the last post containing

homestead content, which was in late March, 26 March to be precise.  The weekend of 29 March offered the opportunity to evaporate yet more sap to the state of delicious maple syrup.  The yield was 16 cups of syrup.  While we stopped collecting sap on the 6th of April because temperatures were routinely staying above the freezing mark, and because sap had largely ceased flowing as a result, the business of evaporation continued through the weekend of April 12th; at that point there was no more snow to maintain the sap for extended periods of time without refrigeration.  In fact, we still have about 30 gallons of sap in the chest freezer awaiting processing.  We learned a great deal about maple sugaring this season, and I hope to be able to expand the operation significantly next year.  Our first season was great fun, and allowed us to connect with so many people while engaging in such a traditionally American endeavor; we will treasure the memories. Read more

Very Early Spring 2014 – Sugaring! Part II of Tapping the Sugar Maples!

, , , , , , , ,
Geri and Nancy being sappy!

After two weeks of collecting more sap than we had anticipated, approximately 100 gallons from thirteen trees (7.7 gallons/tap), we desperately needed to process at least some of the sap to make room for more. The “rule of thumb” is 10 gallons of sap per tap, per season, if the tree is in a forest, so just two weeks into a four to six-week season we are well ahead of pace.  We managed to process approximately 21 gallons on a Saturday, and 27 gallons that Sunday and into Monday.  The weather has been below freezing since we started evaporating, so we have gained some ground on the trees ability to produce.  Our current capacity to store sap stands at 100 gallons more or less, and about half of that depends on having snow on the ground sufficient to maintain containerized sap at low enough temperatures to prevent fermentation and souring of the sap. Read more

Thoughts on the “permacultureVOICES Conference March 2014,” aka, PV1

, , , , , , , ,
Diego giving his inspirational message, “take on your
impossible,” to open the conference

Right at the top, I must tip my hat to Diego Footer, the founder and organizer of the conference; he said that the preparation consumed a year of his life, and I can believe it. Diego has a full-time job, and together with his family, put permacultureVOICES together in his “spare” time; it must have required Herculean effort. I cannot recall a single significant glitch in the event organization, and with over 600 participants and a Who’s Who of permaculture in attendance, the success of the conference represents an amazing accomplishment. In his closing remarks, Geoff Lawton offered that in his 30 years in “this movement,” he has never attended a better conference. That is saying something. Diego has already indicated that there will be a PV2, so if you were not in attendance all is not lost!  http://www.permaculturevoices.com/ Read more

Very Early Spring 2014 – Tapping the Sugar Maples!

, , , , , , , ,

Yes indeed, spring has sprung!  And not only because we set our clocks ahead, but more importantly because sap is flowing from our maple trees which is a more certain sign of spring!  We are very excited, especially since maple syrup will be one of the very first “products” of the homestead.  I am convinced that it will be well worth the work involved in its production.

Maple tree sap flows when daytime temperatures exceed freezing, 32 deg F, and nighttime temperatures dip below the freezing mark.  The temperatures above freezing create a “positive pressure” within the tree, forcing sap out of the tap, while temperatures below freezing create a “negative pressure” within the tree, causing more sap to be pulled up from the roots and into the sap wood. [1]  The optimum variation is said to be a high of 40 deg F and a low of 20 deg F; we tapped Sunday morning at about 9 a.m., after an overnight low of 17 deg F and leading to a daytime high of 42 deg F, and sap was flowing by noon the same day!

Sugar maple leaves and fruits (samara, also known as
“helicopters” when we were kids) 

Read more

Late Winter 2013/2014 – Weekend of 1 Mar 2014

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The weekends provide opportunities to take on more time-consuming projects, and this weekend was no exception. There is much forest management work to do on the property leading up to planting in the spring, and winter has also traditionally been a time when the fuel-wood stores were stocked.  And, I want to show just briefly, a plumbing repair I substantially completed this past weekend.  Later I will make a very detailed post regarding the cause(s) of the damage.

The largest of four trees, an American Beech.  Some of the four smaller trees
in the upper right corner, one of which was a Sugar Maple.

Saturday morning I spent about 4 hours working the slope just south of the house; two reasons, the first is that we needed some firewood, and secondly, I am removing dead-fall and live trees selectively to bring more light and life to the forest floor in the spring.  There is a tremendous amount of dead-fall, with many trees having been broken off by wind 20-30 ft off the ground.  I identified four trees, two with the tops broken off 30 feet or so above ground, and two others that had been damaged by the fall of the first two. Read more

Warré Bee Hive Construction – Part I

, , , , , , , , , ,

From relatively early in the process of planning for greater self-sufficiency, it became clear that honey bees would be would be an important part of the design, and implemented early.  Of course the honey harvest is eagerly anticipated, but their service as pollinators cannot be overrated; according to EcoNews,[1], “Honey bees—wild and domestic—perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, but the best and healthiest food—fruits, nuts and vegetables—are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees.”  The EcoNews article claims an estimate higher than most I have read; nevertheless it seems inarguable that the impact is significant.  Another key reason for early implementation, even before we might be permanently on-site, is that bees are relatively low maintenance.  Depending on the type of hive employed, and whether or not the beekeeper chooses to feed and medicate the bees, only a few visits to the hives may be necessary each year.  As a general rule, we intend to let our bees fend for themselves, save for a feeding upon initial installation of the colonies this spring; a sole harvest would be made in late August or early September each year.

This is a photo of our first Warré
hive almost ready for exterior finish

Read more

Spring 2013: In the beginning…

, , , , , , ,

…it took a long time and a lot of discussion for a sufficiently complete picture of a desired future for my wife and me to form in my head.  No doubt each of us comes to a decision to hit life’s big red “reset button” in our own way and time, and does not come to the decision lightly; I have hit the button before, and it is not always a pleasant experience.  In April of 2013 I wrote in my journal, “It seems that in the past two to four weeks, I am heading in a direction that suits me, in the direction that perhaps I should have been heading for a long time.  For months Geri and I have been talking about moving out of the area, having a second home, or both.  It feels like I have been walking around in the dark, groping for who I am, what I should be doing, and where I should be doing it.” Read more