so quiet…….

  Bleedingheart

Jewelweed

Ground ivy

Red clover

Dandelion

Magnolia

Violet

Celandine

A few pictures from my walk around the homestead this morning. Spring is being a show-off.

Joe took the youngest two north to the farm for the weekend and I'm here with the big two. Which is almost like being alone for the bulk of the day as they run from work to friends….

I had a meeting Friday and class all day tomorrow so I stayed behind. I've been getting text updates ranging from how Sophie found a mouse and babies to Luke talking too much and needing his own camper. There was a phone call about a few people getting lost and meeting the neighbors behind us, which is no easy task on 30 acres, but we'll just forget about that one for now. I asked them to take pictures of the apple tree and really of anything with blossoms. I hate missing a trip up there, but I needed a chunk of work time so badly. I've been in the studio getting caught up on soap and goods in the shop. With no one to feed or keep from turning the entire house into a blanket fort, I sure can get a lot accomplished. 

It's awfully quiet though. And neither Maggie nor I like that part too much. Every time I run an errand and return she runs past me to the van and looks in for her "puppies". She does not approve of them being gone so long. She sat in the studio and stared at me for a good half hour the first night as if to say hey, you realize we're missing something, right?

So off I go. Hoping to get at least 3 batches of soap made today along with some other things that I can't tell you about just yet. Product development is top secret around here……

Happy Saturday friends.

xoxo

stephinie

 

10 Reasons to Keep Chickens

Backyard chickens 1

Backyard chickens 2

Backyard chickens 3

Backyard chickens 4

Backyard chickens 5

This Friday from 1-3 pm Sophie & I will be at the Providence Children's Museum with some of our chicks and hens for their annual Farm Friends event. Kids will be able to pet the chicks and feed our hens some sunflower seeds. The event usually draws a couple hundred people and I'm bound to run out of flyers about why chickens are such great backyard pets. I know many of you readers keep small and large flocks yourselves and I have a favor to ask, can you leave a comment with your favorite reason for keeping hens? I figure we have the opportunity to convert a whole new group of chicken keepers between the lot of us!

 

Here are my top ten reasons for keeping chickens : 

 

1. Eggs!! After you start collecting and eating eggs from your own backyard you will never look at grocery store eggs the same way again. You will become an egg snob. Free-range eggs from happy hens taste so much better

 

2. They eat bugs. So. Many. Bugs. Everything from spiders to caterpillars to ticks. Less is bugs is good.

 

3. They are entertaining. We call it chicken t.v. here. Those feathered girls crack us up.

 

4. They are easy pets. We spend about 1.5 hours a week caring for them. This is about ten minutes a day for food and water and half an hour on the weekend to clean out their nest box. Sometimes it takes longer because we get distracted. (see #3)

 

5. Kids love them. My kids. The neighbors' kids. My friends' kids. Pretty much every kid I've met. Kids love to help care for chickens and even more so love to check for eggs every day. In fact, sometimes my neighbor boys check for me and bring me the eggs they found! Plus it's great for kids to be connected to where their food comes from. 

 

6. They make great compost for the garden. Even if you only grow flowers, your plants will be so happy you decided to keep chickens as pets.

 

7. They're inexpensive. We feed our girls a high-quality organic, soy-free food (and bugs, see #2). A 50-pound bag of food costs $24 and lasts at least two months, in which time they lay at least 12 dozen eggs, averaging out to $2 a dozen for the best darn eggs you've ever eaten.

 

8. They eat your kitchen scraps. Any wilted lettuce, winter squash seeds, vegetable peelings, fruit cores, stale bread and other kitchen scraps are eaten up and turned into eggs!

 

9. They're beautiful. Well, first they are cute and then they are beautiful. Not everyone gets excited about egg color and breed type, but I sure do. I love the blue eggs and the dark brown eggs and searching out a rare breed to add to my flock. Aside from beauty, keeping rare chickens also helps preserve the breed. 

 

10. You just might find your tribe. Or at least add to it. Chicken lovers tend to find each other. Or at least convince their non-chicken friends into becoming chicken owners. (and before you know it you might look at your breakfast of homegrown eggs and toast one morning and decide what that toast really, really needs……. is backyard honey….)

 

11. You can try it first. If you aren't sure if you want to commit, rent some chickens for the summer! If you're in our area of New England, visit our friends Twin Cedar Farms in Acushnet who have some of the most beautiful birds and a super awesome chicken coop setup. They provide everything and you get to see if chickens are a good fit for your family. (see that, I gave you a bonus reason!) 

 

I can't wait to meet a lot of new faces on Friday! If you stop in here after visiting us at the museum, do leave a comment and say hello. 

 

xo,

s

  

spring homestead notes……

Spring garden

Burdock

Welsummer hen

Easter egger hen

Plum tree buds

Bee hive

Lost hive

Queen bee

Kids bees

 

Mud season has begun. Not that it really ended this winter, I'm pretty sure the ground never really froze, so it's been on the muddy side since October. The chickens are glad the last snow we got has melted. We clear a little spot and open up their door when the snow is on the ground…. but they won't venture past it. They just stay on their straw and squawk at us. I wish I could make a summer snow barrier to keep them out of the neighbor's yard. I'll be coming up with some alternatives this summer to try and let them free range but still keep them in our yard. Especially since we're adding to the flock. (we have eggs incubating right now!)

Our fruit trees are thinking about budding out. Luckily they have not yet, this warm winter hasn't fooled them and I'm glad. It's fooled a few magnolia trees around and I'm so sad to think I might not get to swoon at their pink flowers this spring. We'll see… I'm debating on wether I should move our fruit trees to the farm or not. There is one apple tree for sure up there, and I look forward to seeing it in bloom this spring… and looking for more!

On a sad note, we lost one of our hives. This was a first for us. I can't help but assume we did something wrong, it's only our second winter as beekeepers. This hive was configured differently, so maybe moisture was an issue for them? I know they didn't run out of food. It's frustrating, and sad. This was the large swarm I caught last year for those of you who saw it on instagram

Luke was following me around outside while I snapped these pictures and asked to open the hive up and look inside. I showed him the small cluster of bees and the queen. He carefully picked a few bees up and examined them and ever so carefully put them back down. 

They're so tiny, and beautiful. He whispered. 

I think that in the sadness of losing them, there is a great learning experience had by my boy, to be able to see honeybees up close like this. So I guess there's that.

And before I get this whole post too dark and dreary, we do still have two other hives that are doing well. In fact, I was greeted by bubbling good sized clusters in each hive as I slipped food under the cover on a warm day earlier this week. So there is hope! Luke of course thought we should open up the other hives too. After all, 48 degrees feels balmy this time of year. I told him we couldn't yet, but that I had a trick for checking on them. We wandered over to each of the other hives and I told him to press his ear against the side and gently slap it with his hand. (They'll buzz up – this is my ultra not fancy way of checking on them throughout the winter…)

His eyes widened, I hear them mom! It sounds like they are walking around on little tiny leaves.

Just a few more weeks little bees, the groundhog said spring was coming early….

Happy weekending friends.

xo,

s

 

winter chores…..

1

2

3

4
5

6

7

8

9

 

It's nowhere near a real farm, I know. But there are morning chores just the same. Especially in the winter when water freezes and snow covers the floor of the coops. Everyone needs fresh water. A bit of hay or straw. Perhaps some shoveling to clear away snow under their feet. The chickens have been spoiled with sunflower seeds, leftover dried marigold petals from the garden last summer, freeze-dried mealworms and organic cracked grains. They squawk and cackle at us as soon as they see us emerge from the garage, bundled up in jackets and gloves (sometimes over our pajamas), buckets of food and water in hand. Such a funny flock of ladies. Maggie is always with us, sure to dig through snow to try and find a stick. Or a mouse. She always follows me out to check on the bees, even though the snow is over her belly.

These pictures were just a week ago. Our last (I'm hoping) bit of snow. Now the weather has shifted, the snowdrifts are melting, the hum from the beehive is growing louder and mud season is beginning…. more on hope, dreams and melting snow next time.

xo,

s

winter beekeeping……

Winterbees1

Winterbees2

Winterbees3

Winterbees4

Winterbees5

Winterbees6

Winterbees7

Winterbees8

Sunday was warm and drizzly. Over 50 degrees. Usually this time of year a beekeeper just watches and hopes. But because the weather was so warm, we decided to open up the hive and see how the girls were doing. I made up a fondant patty for them, Joe got the smoker going, and we headed outside….

First we added shims to the back of the hive to slightly tip it forward. This encourages any moisture build-up to drip out towards the front entrance. We should have done this a few weeks ago when we wrapped it up…… but better late than never I guess. I've been gently tapping on the hive once a week or so with my head pressed against the outside to listen. The soft hum that responds has seemed strong…. but peeking in let us know how things really look.

Lots of bees greeted us! No doubt grumpy from our intrusion. We quickly placed the fondant and a small wedge of pollen under the lid and closed everything back up. The bees were flying, but slow and we smoked them heavily in hopes of keeping them in their hive as much as possible. If they get too far away it's just so cold for them to make their way back.

Bees cluster together in the winter to keep warm and stay in a ball like shape to keep the hive above 90 degrees. They are such amazing little creatures! A cluster five frames wide is a good sign and it appeared to be what was in our hive. 

We noticed a lot more black bees! Our hive re-queened over the summer and we think the new queen mated with local Carniolan bees from other hives…. which is lucky for us because we've been told they winter better and are calmer. (Italians are more golden, Carniolans are more black) The hive was still heavy, so heavy it bent the tool Joe used when he added the shims. This is good! We hope they have a lot of honey inside. We actually wintered them four (hive boxes) high instead of three high to make sure they had enough. The large fondant patty is for emergency food if they should need it. (I used this recipe) Hopefully we'll get a warm day next month sometime to add more. Our bee mentor told us at this point as long as they don't starve, they should make it. Here's hoping!

xo~

s

 

and then there were bees……..

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

and then there were bees........

 

We did it. 

On Saturday we waited for hours, the arrival of the bees was delayed and I checked facebook far too many times to watch for updates. Finally they were on their way to Berkley, MA where we were to pick them up at one of the Beekeeper Association member's home. We watched them install two packages into hives in the backyard. One skillfully done by a young girl just two years older than Sophie. 

We headed back to the table and looked at the boxes and boxes of bees.

Pick out your two, Ed said to us. 

Is there a trick to this? I asked. Is it like picking out a puppy?

Sort of, he said. Pick the ones that speak to you.

Sophie and I each picked one out. 

We sprayed them with sugar water and put them into a cardboard box and headed home. We had the ac on full blast in hopes of keeping them cool. We should have left the box lid wide open or gotten them their own boxes…. they got a little warm in there together. 

Home. A bustle of activity. Gear. Bee suits. Sugar water. The bees sat in a cool dark corner of the garage.

We followed the instructions of the experts and memory of so many videos watched in the past few weeks. Everything went off without a single problem. After the first package was in, Sophie asked if she could do the second one. I can do this mama, she said to me.

I pulled the queen out and then let her take over from there. Calm and confident that girl. Bees all over us and she was so relaxed…. amazing. All of it. No one was stung either.

Sunday morning I drifted out there first thing with my coffee. They are amazing to watch. I could sit there forever. 

I peeked in this afternoon to see if either queen was out. They're both so close, but not quite there. You can see the queen box in that last photo. Everyone looked well in there, at least to this very novice set of eyes.

Oh my. We really are beekeepers. She and I. 

xo,

s

{Thank you to Joe for taking pictures of us installing the bees & thank you to all the incredible members of our Bee Association who give so much of their time & answer *so* MANY questions for us novice beekeepers!} 

  

spring, by sophie……

I sent her outside with my camera. Take pictures of spring, I said.

This is what she came back with…… it's always fun to see what the kids choose to capture……..

spring, by sophie......

spring, by sophie......

spring, by sophie......

spring, by sophie......

spring, by sophie......

spring, by sophie......

spring, by sophie......

spring, by sophie......

 

Tomorrow is THE day.

Bee day.

I made sugar syrup and bee food today. We got the hives out in the yard today. I planted 5 raspberry bushes behind them and got three grapevines and 6 blackberry bushes in too. There were supposed to be five blackberries, the bonus made me smile. Then Maggie ate one. Dang dog. I think she's part goat. Always eating sticks. She did feel bad. Joe yelled at her and she sat on a huge rock in the middle of the yard sulking while I finished planting. She's a character for sure. And such a softy….

I'll be here in the morning with a giveaway from one of my lovely sponsors. It's a good one!

Wish me luck installing bee packages tomorrow afternoon. Oh my. I can't really believe it's finally the day. Eeek!

Happy weekending to you all.

xo,

s

seeds…… that I didn’t kill……

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

seeds..... that I didn't kill....

I am very, very good at killing seedlings. I did have a few successful years in Louisiana. Oh that garden was a battle….. but a good one in learning to let go and work with what I had. And things did start to go well as time went by. Except those potatoes, ahem.

Last year I had a lovely pile of seeds in hopes of starting a garden….. but wow. Moving is a lot of work and getting settled is even more work and so I tucked them away (in a cool dry place) for the next spring. And here we are. A year later. I got a little enthusiastic in February. It happens to the best of us. Especially perhaps to a girl who was having her first real winter in four years. The result?

Two varieties of peppers, five varieties of tomatoes, lettuce, more than a dozen herbs, at least a dozen flowers, potatoes, a few winter squash, lots of dark leafy greens, tons of lettuce, cucumbers, melon, beans…. and I'm sure I've left something out….

In the next week or so we'll be putting in three 4×12 foot raised beds out back. Tucked somewhere in between the grape vines and berry bushes. Oh my….

But back to the seeds. This is my most successful year yet. I followed the advice of one of my favorite books. I thought it would be nice to share a few of the successful tips here with you:

Buy an inexpensive shop light that you can raise & lower to be 2-3 inches above your seedlings. The close light keeps them from growing too quickly, aka spindly.

Use one warm fluorescent and one cool fluorescent for a good uv spectrum.

Plug your light into a timer to make sure the seedlings are getting 16 hours of light each day.

Keep them in the warmest spot in the house.

Leave the plastic cover on until they sprout, then take it off.

*these are all from the book*

Use great seeds! (Mine are from this place and this place.)

I splurged on self watering trays from Home Depot. These are the cat's meow. They have channels in them, a water absorbing mat on top, and the seedling in peat pots over that. You simply keep the trough filled and the plants drink what they need through little holes in the top tray, encouraging deep root growth and discouraging that thing where they all keel over at the base. That's so sad when that happens. Next year, I'll just need some little homemade peat starters and I can reuse this system.

The tomatoes all sprouted right up and are getting their second leaves. The peppers took a little more coaxing and a heating pad tucked under the tray for encouragement….. but they're up now! Next is thinning. Oh I hate that part. I think this weekend I'll start some herbs, because as you know, I have a few of those…..

Are any of you starting your garden plans? Tell me what you're growing!

xo,

s

 

new bee*ginnings……

Pardon the pun there, but we're pretty excited around here!

Well, by we… I mean mostly Sam, Sophie and I. Yesterday a rather large delivery from Betterbee arrived at our doorstep! A good bit of everything I need to get two hives setup for the BEES arriving sometime in the next few weeks. Oh. My. It's all really happening! As we unpacked the boxes the little kids wanted to know what each tool was used for and what everything was. 

 

new bee*ginnings......

new bee*ginnings......

new bee*ginnings......

new bee*ginnings......

new bee*ginnings......

new bee*ginnings......

new bee*ginnings......

 

Funny thing about bee suits, everyone wants to try it on, even the biggest kid of them all.

I've been attending bee school for the last few weeks offered by the local Bee Association. I've met a great group of people and plan to attend the monthly meetings and workshops they offer when Bee School is finished.

I have two hives to build and paint in the next few weeks, and then it's waiting for the bees to arrive! Which is both exciting and completely nerve wracking. Sam has offered to be my assistant for the summer, the gear above is actually his. He's always been very calm and kindhearted with any sort of insect, even stinging ones, so I'm glad to have him out there with me when we coax two boxes of 10,000 bees into their new homes. (yes, that's 20,000 total!)

You know I'll have pictures to share with you for sure!

Happy first day of spring everyone!

xo,

s

 

morning chores……

morning chores

morning chores

morning chores

morning chores

morning chores

morning chores

morning chores

morning chores

morning chores

morning chores

Each morning one or more of us tumble out of doors into the coldness to check on chickens and rabbits. Sometimes through snow. Often breaking the ice in their water bucket and replacing it with fresh water. They always seem so grateful for this. We invested in a heated water bottle for the rabbits and it's worked out really well. They always come out of their little den to say hello in the morning.

The hens have been eating layer pellets by Green Mountain that I found at a little feed store just over the MA/RI border. I've been supplementing them with a cracked corn & barley too. Especially on colder days. They get lots of kitchen scraps. Veggie peelings and squash are their favorite. They've enjoyed eating a bit of alfalfa hay too. I've read in a few places that giving them hay during the winter will help keep their yolks bright yellow. I guess we'll know soon enough when we get some eggs. They're nearly six months and could start laying anytime now! We're curious about which breed will lay first. (Easter Egger, Welsummer, or Wyandotte)

Joe built another compost pile & we stopped adding to the huge heap where the garden will be. He turns it often and it is amazing how much heat & steam comes off of it. Even on the coldest of days! This spring the floor of the chicken coop will go into the new pile and we'll be on our way to making good dirt. Everything I've read says patience is key…… in time you will have good dirt. Poop, compost, patience.

This is the month to dream of gardens, right? Swoon over seed catalogs & dream of fruit trees. We ordered our fruit trees & berry bushes from this company & so far all of my vegetable garden seeds are from here. I'm trying to keep things fairly simple, it's so easy to dream bigger than I can manage. 

And speaking of dreaming big…… Bee School starts February 11th. I've waited months for this. I'm really beyond excited. If all goes well we should be getting bees this spring. Oh goodness….. this little homestead dream seems to be coming together.

xo~

s