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Down Home Blog Hop~ Number 91 & Summer Happenings

Finally the harvests of summer are beginning to arrive. Warmer days are here and with that an abundance and blessings of eggs, honey, flowers, fruits, and vegetables begin to find their way into our home and onto the dinner plate.

The blueberries are in season. We enjoyed our first cucumbers and heirloom tomatoes from the garden this week during dinner. How delicious they taste sliced up with a little sprinkle of salt! Swiss chard and kale are abundant. So abundant that I will begin to blanch and freeze them to used in winter soups. Eggplants are unfurling on stems and herbs are drying in the garage. We even harvested honey this past weekend.

This week's blog hop is about celebrating our summer harvests. So I hope you will join us and share what you are enjoying this summer. Harvests come not only in the form of food and flowers, but also in celebrations of successes and accomplishments too. I hope you will join us this week and bring a friend. I can't wait to see what you are harvesting!

How to Harvest Honey

This past weekend a friend and I got together to harvest our summer honey. Despite keeping bees for three years this was the first harvest that was large enough to need an extractor. Many factors come into honey production by the bees including weather, hive health, hive size, breed of bee, supply of blooms, and honey bee pests. This year we were lucky after three seasons of keeping bees!

The night prior to the honey harvest, we sterilized all our jars and lids in the dishwasher. Even if we are not going to use them all, it's best to be prepared. 

We removed the frames from the hive. You can do this the morning of the harvest or a couple days prior.

There are many different techniques to remove the bees from the comb. We brushed the bees from the frames using a bee brush. We did not smoke the hive. We placed an empty deep about 50 feet away from the hive. We placed  cardboard on the bottom and a clean towel on the top. This helped to keep the bees off the honey and also kept curious bees in the "neighborhood" from investigating. One by one we placed the honey filled frames into the deep. Once full, we brought the honey into the garage.

In the garage, we prepped the area. First we put down painter's plastic and a layer of newspaper.

Then we placed the extractor on top of our covered garage floor.

Next to the extractor, we added a small table. Covered it with newspaper and then placed a cookie sheet and the hive scratching tool right next to the extractor.

Next we cleaned out the food grade honey bucket. There's a spout there- that yellow thing, for easy pouring into jars.

Inside the bucket we added a mesh bag to filter the beeswax from the honey.

We tied it off with string to prevent it from falling into the bucket from the weight of the honey.
The bucket was then placed under the extractor.

To the side, we placed a bowl of warm water and a dry towel. This is a great way to "wash" your hands when they get a bit sticky. Throughout the harvesting process, we used this quite a bit to keep things from getting sticky. As you will see, honey harvesting can be a messy business if you do not stay on top of the sticky. Honey can get everywhere!

Once you are ready to extract close the garage doors, screenless windows, and any other openings where the bees can get inside. The garage will become filled with the smell of delicious honey and if you do not take these precautions. You will have visitors by the thousands!

Over the cookie sheet and starting at the top of each frame, we scratched the capped honey on both sides of the frame.

Inside the extractor is a slot for each frame.

One by one we added each scraped frame being careful to balance the weight inside the extractor.

Then we spun and spun them. It takes about 10 minutes of spinning to extract all the honey from the frames. A tip for you: When extracting, spin the honey in the same direction for 5 minutes and then reverse the direction for 5 minutes. This helps to really pull the honey from the frames. We repeated this process until all the honey was spun down. You can see that the honey and small pieces of beeswax from the uncapping began to fill the bottom of the extractor.

Here you can see the empty frames. They are still wet and glistening with honey.

Once done, we returned the empty frames to the deep. We will return these frames to the hives. The bees will remove all the excess honey and repair the honeycomb to be used again.

After all the frames were spun, we took a plastic spatula and scrapped all the honey off the sides and bottom.

Finally, it was time to open the spout on the extractor and add it to the harvest bucket.

We let it flow while we continued to scrape the honey into the bucket.

We even scraped the wax and honey into the bucket lost during the uncapping of the frames. Every bit of honey counts! It's a lot of work for those bees.

Once in the bucket the filtered honey starts to seep into the bucket.

Gravity helps. Hanging the bag over the bucket, it's now a waiting game until every last bit of honey drips into the bucket. It can take hours and sometimes we let it drip overnight.

Finally, we bring the honey bucket inside and add it to the jars.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

Honeybees vs. Bumblebees: Spotting the Difference

As a beekeeper, I am fascinated by so many bees and wasps that visit our gardens and help to pollinate our plants. Yet, sometimes, I find that folks often confuse honeybees with bumblebees. Both are simply adorable in my opinion but very different. At first, to many outsiders, a bee is just a bee. That would be like me saying a dog is just a dog. But in fact, there are many different breeds.

Of course, there are Italian, Carnolian, Russian, Hybrids, Australians, and many more breed of honeybees that certainly deserve a mention. But this post is about the differences between bumblebees and honeybees. The photo up above and this photo below are bumblebees. Aren't they super cute? The best way you can tell bumblebees and honeybees apart is by their very different appearances.

Bumblebees are part of the bee genus, Bombus. Like honeybees they too form colonies with a queen. Yet their colonies are much smaller-around only fifty bees. They have darling round fluffy yellow and black striped bodies. They rarely sting but they can sting multiple times if warranted. They feed on nectar and feed their babies pollen. Like honeybees they have pollen buckets on their hind legs. Their colonies rarely overwinter.

Now, these are honeybees.

They are skinnier and not as fuzzy. I still think they are cute but not as cute as those bumbles! Sorry girls.

They too pollinate just like the bumblebees. They collect pollen in the buckets on their legs and bring back nectar and honey to their nests. Most honeybees in the U.S. live in hives but some find their way into the walls of houses, old hollowed out trees, and the like to make their homes. 

They too have a queen but their homes consist of typically between 50,000 to 70,000 bees! The also cannot repetitively sting (except for their queen). Their stingers are barbed and they will sacrifice their life to protect their hive. Like bumblebees they are not aggressive unless directly threatened. They also overwinter their colonies.

So now you know the difference! I bet today you will start "seeing" bees differently. I think you'll be surprised to see that you might just have more bumblebees than honeybees visiting your gardens.

Photo Credits: Tilly's Nest

Down Home Blog Hop~Number 91 + Makeshift Brooder

The flock is now seven and a half weeks old. They were quickly outgrowing their temporary brooder. The Salmon Favorelle, Golden Laced Wyandotte and Easter Eggers were now the size of Silkie Bantams. It was time to begin their transition.

Yesterday, on the hottest day of summer yet, I chose to incorporate their small little mini-chicken world, into the world of the existing flock. I took apart the run from my old chicken coop and turned it on its side inside the big girls' run. I used two of the run's existing walls and closed off a square in the run.  The old coop door was still attached. With this set-up, it would allow me to gain access into the new brooder. The coop door now simply flips down. For shelter, I am using a small pet carrier. The little girls only need this for sleeping and it can easily be picked up and placed in the garage or even in the coop with the existing girls for the evening.

I placed the waterer up on a terracotta flower pot. This helps to keep the water clean. I also added some vitamins and electrolytes to the water during this transition. Moving is always stressful, even for chickens!

Yesterday, they spent the entire day exploring inside this brooder. All the older hens, Tilly and the girls came over to take a peek at the little ones. Surprisingly, the thing they cared most about was trying to eat the chick feed through the hardware cloth, especially Oyster Cracker! As I went to close them up in the evening, I imagined myself climbing in the brooder to retrieve them one by one. As I approached the coop with the sun sinking from the sky, I heard lots of peeping. The big girls were in the coop and the babies were all piled into the dog carrier getting "situated". Life is always better when the chickens sleep where they are supposed to! For the next week or so, they will remain in their brooder until I release them into the coop and run with the big girls.

For more information on transitioning and integrating flocks, you might find this post helpful. You might also enjoy reading about this other DIY project: A Chicken Safe Place.

I can't wait to see what you will share this week. Feel free to bring a friend and share what's happening at your place. I'm looking forward to your homemade creations, homesteading updates, animals, sewing projects, decorating, crafts, gardening, recipes, canning, and more. So please feel free to link up to three of your posts and please share a link back to this hop so others can find us, be inspired and join in! It's so wonderful to connect with so many talented bloggers. Thank you!

Chicken Coop Tour: An Update

Today I thought that I'd share another peek at the chicken coop. The landscaping is beginning to fill in and the edible chicken garden is a very popular place. I picked up two plastic garden stools from Home Goods that the kids enjoy sitting on both inside and outside of the chicken run. Wood chips fill in the garden path ways. I find they are much easier to rake back into place after the chickens scratch around in them.
As you open the door, you are greeted by nine nesting boxes. The nesting boxes, are completely removable for a good cleaning a couple times per year. I placed a few wooden eggs in the upper boxes, to help convince the girls that this is a good place to lay eggs.
In the bump out, two removable, painted, six foot roosts are there to accommodate all the girls. At night, the majority of their dropping fall in this one area. They don't trample the droppings and they are very easy to scoop up each day with a small trowel. Cleaning up each day, allows me to only clean the coop out entirely once per month. Here's how I clean the coop step-by-step.
I still love to use kiln dried pine shavings on the coop floor. They help control odor and dry out any missed droppings. They are also very inexpensive. When I clean the coop, I rake the run out first. Then I toss the coop's soiled shavings into the run. The chickens help to compost the shavings and they also help with any excess moisture and puddles in the run from rain. We have two windows on opposite side of the coop. This provides a great cross ventilation in the summer. All the windows also add lots of light to the coop. Did you know that sunlight is a natural bacteria killer?
I also love to add houseplants in the coop too. In addition to using the dried herbs in the nesting boxes, I have mint, lavender and chamomile plants perched up in the rafters to help control flies and other pests. I store the oyster shells and grit up there too in vintage mason jars.
Now all that is left is to decide on a color for the coop door.

Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

23 Organic Products for Every Yard and Garden Issue

This year's garden late June
For years, we have always tried to use mostly organic products around our yard and gardens. Since I started beekeeping almost four years ago, everything had to change. It was no longer an option to be non-organic. Going chemical free was important for the bees and important in the long run for my young family. Today I thought that I would share some products that we have found beneficial over the years. A huge thanks goes out to my friends at Country Garden, who are always eager to show us something new!

As always, even though products are organic it does not mean that they cannot harm honeybees and fellow pollinators. So do not apply to plants with blooms or during the day when the pollinators are out. If you must use these products apply them early in the morning or around dusk when the pollinators have returned home for the evening.

Soil Amendments
  • Coast of Maine Organic Soil Products
  • Espoma's 
    • Holly Tone
    • Bone Meal
    • Garden Lime
  • Max Sea 16-16-16
  • Fox Farm Products
    • Big Bloom
    • Grow Big
    • Ocean Forest Soil
    • Happy Frog
  • Moo Doo
Lawn Care
  • Espoma Lawn Foods
  • Espoma Organic Weed Preventer
  • Actinovate
  • Serenade Fungicide
Weed Killer
  • Ecosmart organic weed and grass killer
  • Lucerne Farms Hay Mulch
Garden Pests
  • Captain Jack's Dead Bug Brew
  • Bonide All Seasons Spray Oil
  • Neem Oil
Animal/Rodent Repellent
  • Bonide Repel's All
  • Mosquito Dunks
  • Gnatnix
Grubs/Japanese Beetles
  • Milky Spore
  • Sluggo
  • Espoma Earth Tone Slug and Snail Control
  • Damminix Tick Tubes
Photo Credit: Tilly's Nest

Down Home Blog Hop~Number 89 + A Simple Bouquet

Good morning friends. Thank you so much for all of your encouragement to bring back the Down Home 
Blog Hop. I had no idea that so many of you really enjoyed linking up to it and missed it. It's not always strong with big numbers of link-ups like some other parties, so I assumed that you all would move on to other, bigger more popular hops. I was wrong.

I owe you an explanation. I put the blog hop on hold just prior to my book's photo shoot. I was simply overwhelmed. The school year was coming to an end for my young children. I was still writing for HGTV and Community Chickens. In addition to that, I had to prep the house for the photo shoot and also make all of the 30 or so "projects" in my book in order for them to be photographed! Plus I wanted to be sure to continue posting on this blog every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I had too much on my plate and family came first. As I have made it a priority to unplug when my family is home.

So now we are back! I am happy and excited. Today, I am sharing a lovely bouquet that my friend, C.L. Fornari, made during a recent garden party that I attended at her home. It's simple-elegant and country garden all at the same time. It's important as bloggers that sometimes we take breaks. It's good now and then to sit back and enjoy those and all of the experiences around us.

I can't wait to see what you will share this week. Feel free to bring a friend and share what's happening at your place. I'm looking forward to your homemade creations, homesteading updates, animals, sewing projects, decorating, crafts, gardening, recipes, canning, and more. So please feel free to link up to three of your posts and please share a link back to this hop so others can find us, be inspired and join in! It's great to be back!