Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The first $2.50

This was truly a big day. We've sold our first dozen eggs!

We're now gathering six eggs a day, and every other day or so a new hen starts. By next week we should be up to a dozen a day. So, for the first time we've sold eggs. One of Whitney's coworkers bought the lucky dozen, for the sum of $2.50.

The egg money jar

Why $2.50?  We're not trying to get rich here, but the chickens didn't need to be a money sink either.  We believe there is a economic side of hobby farming, it should be able to provide and support it's self. Not buying eggs will save us money, but chicken feed ain't free! From the beginning our idea for the chickens was that they should pay for their own feed. $2.50 is the going price locally and should pay for feed and and fresh bedding every few months. 
And so just like that, after months of planning and waiting, we are in the egg business!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Feeding the Bees

I am now buying sugar 50 LBS at a time. Turns out I had no idea how much bees could eat!
It makes sense really, but like most folks I suspect, I had never really thought about it. A colony will have over 10'000 individuals and often many times that. Some are young and some are old, but they are all working and when there is no nectar or pollen to collect they need sustenance. In an established colony that would be the honey stores, but since my bees are newly established, they need assistance. When you're feeding bees, you feed them sugar in water either in a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio (cups of sugar to cups of water). While the days are warm, you can feed the 1:1 syrup, but as the temps drop you switch to the real juice, 2:1. The bees smell the syrup and go to it, craving the sugar like every other critter in nature.
I got these feeders from our bee keeping supply place, and filled them up last weekend. The feeders fit down in the hive, taking the place of one frame. They have little grooves in the sides for the bees to cling to, but on the advice of a bee keeping friend, I put window screen in there to help them climb up.
The feeders each hold about 2 quarts of syrup, that's 8 cups sugar and water each for a 1:1 syrup or 16 cups sugar for a 2:1. To make a batch for both hives, I use 4 quarts water and 32 cups sugar.

Now came the surprise. I checked the hives tonight, and the stronger one had already drained their feeder. That less than four days! It's a good sign really, besides the sugar bill, because it means that they may have a better chance of surviving the winter. As I've said in other posts, the syrup will help them create wax and store honey.
I've also begun to notice quite a difference in the strength of the colonies. The one we vacuumed out of the eaves is very much stronger than the swarm we collected off the fence post. It's common for bee keepers to have strong hives and weaker ones and we certainly do. It is fitting with what I've heard several times, swarms can be awfully hard to establish. They leave a colony with an older qween and generally die if they are not captured. I'm not holding my breath, but we are ever hopeful. If we can get these colonies through the hard times a head, they should be ready to rock and roll come springtime. Until then, we may be buying a lot of sugar!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Goodbye, Garden

After months of starting, sowing, watering and weeding, the harvest seems short lived. Many of these plants were started as seeds in April , so although we were lucky this year to have a long summer, it was still sad to say goodbye to the garden this week.                                                           
 A couple weeks ago there was a light freeze forecasted so we had covered the plants with plastic. A plant can do just fine as long as the water drops on the leaves don't freeze, so putting clear plastic over the plants can extend your season quite a bit. But with more freezing nights forecasted it was time to take stock, harvest the good and toss the bad.  

As we picked the last of the tomatoes, zucc's, cucc's and squash, all the plants and weeds were piled into the chicken run. This made the chore of cleaning the garden a whole lot more enjoyable because with every load of plants that we gave the chickens, there were some very happy hens and excited chicken noises.


This has turned out to be one of my favorite things about this chickens. I love that all of our spoiled fruit and vegis now go to the chickens. It takes all the guilt out of not eating that last zuccinni since it'll go to a good cause. In fact several of our friends have been donating thier zucc's to us this week for the chicken feed.

 After Whitney pulled all the plants, I turned the beds. Later this week, we'll mulch over each and "put them to bed" for the winter. By doing all this now, we'll have clean, well tilled beds all ready to go next spring

Another trick we've learned about gardening here is using season extenders, like these "water walls". The platic tubes are filled with water and the whole thing placed around the plant. This is how you start tomates and peppers early enough to allow them to mature, otherwise they'd never make it. This time we decided to try leaving them on the Jalapeno's for a while this fall to see how they'd do.  

One more trick we've learned is to go ahead and pick the yellow and some green tomatoes at the end of the season. As you use the red ones, the others wil ripen and be ready in a week or so. This will be more than enough for another round of salsa, or maybe some whole canned toms. So even though it is sad to say goodbye, we'll have memories of the garden through the winter. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"World's Greatest" Bee Farm

Check out the Brushy Mountain Bee Farm for a neat video on the "World's Greatest" Bee Farm. There is also some good information on the importance of honey bees in our world today.

This morning I am worried about my bees. Last time I checked on them they did not have nearly as much honey put up as I was hopping for. After some reading I think I understand why. In the honey bee world, the younger bees stay in the hive and do "house jobs" while the older bees go out and forage. Some of the house jobs are caring for the brood and building wax for honeycomb. In order to build wax the bees eat honey, and lots of it. So the older bees are foraging and storing honey, but since the hives were heavy with new frames (frames without wax) the younger bees were eating it to create wax. A chicken and the egg sort of thing, they need honey to make wax and wax to make honey. So now we are headed into winter and I don't think my bees will have enough honey to survive. The  answer is to start regular feeding. I ordered a feeder for each this week, and will now be feeding them sugar syrup to help them survive and make honey. I can also medicate through feeding, and I'll be reading more on this to learn what I need to be doing there. In the mean time, I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope my girls are though enough to make it.

On the brighter side, we hit a landmark yesterday: two eggs in one day! This (small) event is significant because it means now we have two hens laying! Pretty exciting stuff around here :-)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Jamming and Canning

It still amazes me that some plums, given to us by a friend can become jam that we'll use for the next year!

It is of course no magic. People have been preserving food for thousands of years. From drying and salting to canning, pickling and freezing, food preservation has always been one of humans primary objectives. I guess what amazes me most is how simple it is to preserve food. Sure, it takes a little time and a few specialized tools, but it really is not hard, and can even be fun. But really the best part is the enjoyment of pulling out a jar of something you've put up and sharing it with friends or family months later. That is the true joy of preserving.
On this day we were making jam from plums from a friend. The recipes are easily found online and after you get the hang of the water bath, canning is pretty simple.
After the plums are pitted and sliced, they get boiled with sugar. Next the jars are filled hot and placed in the water bath. About 30 minutes later, you pull them and they seal as they cool with a nice little pop. Whitney loves to hear the pop!

And just like that, we've got plenty of plum jam for the next year! Simply Amazing.