Review – Mother Earth News Fair – Topeka, KS Oct 22-23, 2016

So I convinced my lovely wife to join me this past weekend on a trip to beautiful and exotic Topeka, KS! We attended our first Mother Earth News Fair.

My first impression is I thought it would be bigger and outdoors. I understand some of the other locations may have been outdoors, but this one was inside the ExpoCenter. There were plenty of great vendors and multiple stages with presentations.

Regarding the presentations I have two observations: First the ones we attended were very basic level information on whatever the topic was being discussed. For example, we went to one about beehive inspections. The speaker asked how many people already had bees and I would guesstimate over 60% of the crowd raised their hands. Then he asked how many are thinking about getting bees and I would guesstimate about 10% of the crowd raised their hands. To me this meant it was a more advanced crowd and he should have quickly covered the basics for the 10% and spent most of his time on advanced topics. Instead it started with “this is a beehive” and “these are frames” and got slower from there. I will try to find a way to suggest to the fair organizers to mark the sessions with the level – beginner, intermediate, advanced so people know what to expect.

Second I was a little disappointed in the crowds. Confession time, I was fan boy-ing a little at some of the speakers. For example, Joel Salatin spoke Sunday morning at the main stage. I got my lovely wife up early to be there so we would be sure to get a seat. Turns out we could have slept in, the crowd never filled the area by more than about 70%. It could be the basic level of some topics and unless this was your first fair you may have already heard it. For example with Joel Salatin and Elliot Coleman it was the same discussion I have seen from them on the internet and probably the same speech they have been giving for years.

All that said I tried to take something new from each discussion and we only walked out of one to go to another. The speaker got preachy real fast and we got the feeling there wasn’t much instructional information coming, so we went and heard Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily talk about ducks! 🙂

My favorite session was one from Marjory Wildcraft of The Grow Network on “How to produce half your food in less than an hour per day in a backyard”. I mostly liked it because her system included chickens for eggs, garden for fruits and veggies, and rabbits for meat. Three things we already are doing!

Finally a couple of shout outs!
Food trucks – the food we got was delicious and the rest smelled heavenly! A good variety to choose from!
The guys at the Norwood Sawmills demonstration area who patiently answered all my sawmill related questions
Same for the gentleman at Premier 1 Supplies booth who patiently answered all my electric fencing related questions

I took several pictures of speakers, but from a distance with my cell phone they turned out terrible. So here is the one good one I took just before I got to the front of the line to ask Marjory Wildcraft a question:

Marjory Wildcraft

Marjory Wildcraft at Mother Earth News Fair Topeka, KS 2016

Maple Syrup Season in September!

OK, so it is not really maple syrup season but life is about rhythms and preparing. Maple syrup season is around the first part of February here in Missouri. In order to be ready when the weather warms during the day after freeing at night there is work to be done now! We are marking the trees with “danger tape” just before the leaves fall making them easier to identify and we are saving milk and juice containers to act as our sap jugs and order an extra set of Maple Spile Tap.

Danger Tape

Danger tape used to mark sugar maple trees.

Identifying Maple Trees
We moved to The Ridge on Halloween, so by the time we realized we had a healthy batch of maple trees to tap the leaves had already fallen. Identifying a maple tree (or any tree) in the winter months with no leave is definitely a step up skill, but not impossible. Most everyone knows what a maple leaf looks like, if not just search anything Canada and you will most likely see the image of the 5 pointed maple leaf. This time of year you can easily find the trees buy finding the leaves, either on the tree or on the ground around the tree.

Without the leaves on the tree you have two other things to look at, the bark and the upper level branches. On a maple tree (sugar maple specifically) the bark is grey to brown with deep ridges. Ours seem to have this thin layer of greenish grey moss that grows in the ridges making them stand out from other trees as you look through the woods.

Marked sugar maples

Sugar maple trees marked for easy identification during maple syrup season.

When looking up to the trees upper branches, a sugar maple will have the smaller branches growing directly opposite each other from a larger branch. This takes a little bit of time to learn to recognize looking up, but check out these details from the Cornell Sugar Maple Research and Extension Program

So get out there and find your trees while the leaves are still on and start saving or investing in equipment to collect and reduce the sap to syrup. See our bigger Maple Syrup How-to post for more details on making syrup.

In the meantime, comment below what projects you have going to prepare for the next season!

Chicks, man!

So the plan was to hatch a few chicks while we had the extra eggs and prepare to replace our layers next spring.  Hatching them now means they should start laying in very early spring.  We had a broody hen, but she stopped when I tried to move her from the top nest box to a more chick-friendly lower nest box.  So time to break out the incubator.

 We have a styrofoam hova-bator incubator.  It is a still air model.  Past hatches have been horrible (both chicken and quail eggs) at less than 50% and an average about 30% have lead me to make changes.  First we bought an egg turner since it appeared that opening and closing the incubator to turn eggs three times a day was causing great fluxuations in both temperature and humidity.  While it was less work, hatch rates remained dismal.  Next it seemed the incubators with a fan were preferred as it insured the heat and humidity were more evenly dispersed.  Since our model didn’t have a fan, we could have bought a fan kit.  Since I am a computer geek, the many computer case fans I had laying around looked exactly like the ones in the kit.  I rigged one up and presto circulated air incubator, but again no real change in hatches.  

This time I did yet another internet search for ways to improve hatch rates with piss-poor incubators.  This is when I found a forum post about the “dry incubation method“.  It was worth a try since fully formed I hatched chicks described our problem.  Hoping for at least 10-15 chicks (allows for 50/50 pullets to cockerels) we collected 36 eggs over the course of seven days.  One other thing we learned was that the eggs need to be turned during this time of waiting to set in the incubator.

We removed the two red plugs per the article and used a room humidifier from when the kids were young which kept the humidity inside the incubator around 35% without adding any water inside.   In the past with water inside it stayed above  60%.  Fast forward 18 days, the turner was removed and a small amount of water added to boost humidity to around 70%.  The next day I heard chirping and saw a little egg movement.  Day 20 we added back one of the red plugs and waited.  By the end of the day at least two had hatched.  Then on the morning of the 21st day. The windows were fogged over, the humidity was at 90% and there were definitely more than two chicks.  The article said DONT open the incubator, okay we couldn’t take it any more.  30 out of 36 hatched right on schedule!!!!  What are we gonna do with 30 chickens???  

That is our best hatch ever!  Could be luck, could be the dry hatch method.  If the Beautiful Wife ever allows me to hatch chicks again, we will see if the method made the difference.

What are your hatch rates?  What things have you found help increase hatch rates?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Happening on the Ridge – August 2016

Summer is coming to a close, but things on the Ridge go on.

The garden finally got a break from intense dry heat to constant rain.  The tomatoes  made the best come back.

That was until these guys showed up

Yup tomato hornworms.  Now the top of all my tomatoes look like this

Nothing really to do except go out each morning and pick them manually and stomp the juicy little suckers!

Lily pads in the gold fish pond are blooming

Then there are the bees

This one hive beards ever evening regardless of the weather, have all summer.

So as the days grow shorter, there is still plenty to do.  Hunting season quickly approaches so we have a tree stand to build. Fall crops of lettuce, carrots, and cucumbers have been planted.   There are chicken eggs in the incubator to raise our layers for next season.

I will leave you with this picture of the trail to the river bottom.

Garden Hack Summit Weekend Replay – Review

Last week I viewed the Garden Hack Summit. Stacey Murphy put together a great list of speakers and garden topics. There were great videos on building soil (by Greg Peterson of, hugelkultur (by Paul Wheaton of, closed loop aquaponics (by Yemi Amu of, electric poultry netting (by Justin Rhodes of, and others.

This weekend (8/5-8/7) they are running a free replay – so head on over and check out this great information at this link “Garden Hack Summit 2016” This is not an affiliate link and I get nothing for this recommendation, just good information I wanted to share.

I particularly enjoyed the talk on aqauponics by Yemi Amu. My plan it to implement the same system on a much smaller scale in my 10X12 greenhouse as soon as we get it installed this fall.

5 homestead projects in our near future

Got a couple of things rolling around in my head that we want to do on the Ridge in the next 6-12 months. I thought I would share them here and see if there is any feedback, good or bad, that people have had doing these projects themselves.

1) Deer stand
While we have already built a ground blind on a hill side over looking the river bottom, that location is right next to the neighbor’s property and I have actually waved to him in his stand while hunting. Not a good location. My son and I have scouted a place near the middle of the property that seems to be a natural corridor for all types of wildlife. The trail cam I placed there has shots of several deer of all ages. Raccoons, possums, armadillos, and a fox who is a great hunter. The fox is never on camera without a mouth full of something fresh he (she?) has just hunted. We decided his (her?) den must be close to the location. Anyway, back to the deer stand. In the past we have had great luck with a high tree stand (platform) that gets us above the deer line of sight and probably smell. So we have a group of three trees and a 10 foot 4X6 post that will be used to build the platform on. That is happening in August to get it done ahead of bow season which starts Sept 15th here in Missouri.

2) Greenhouse
We secured a free 10X12 greenhouse from some friends who acquired it with a new home purchase, but didn’t want it. They said if we removed it we could have it. So the pile of clear plastic panels has been sitting in the woods all summer. The next step is to have the son-in-law bring over his bobcat and clear/level the location we want to install it. We are questioning a few things with this item. First I think we should have a dirt floor that we can either plant directly into or maybe start a covered worm bin into later. It would save the cost of installing a full concrete foundation, but we still need to secure it to the ground somehow. We are thinking we might be able to anchor it to 6X6 or 8X8 timbers. Then there is the direction to set it up. Our plan is the face the door west with the long (12 foot) sides running east/west and facing south/north.

3) Perone Bee Hive
I discovered this hive design over the past winter and it has really intrigued me. Mostly because it boast of having little to no management needed. While we have 22 acres and currently 3 hives on the Ridge, we also have access to 100 acres about 40 miles away. I would like to setup hives on this other property, but dont expect to be driving 80 miles round trip very often to check on the hives, so low maintenance is required. While this hive was created in a much warmer southern climate, there have been mixed reviews on its success in the states. Honestly, most of the failures I have read about were due to too much beekeeper interaction in my opinion. The plan is to build one this winter and install it early next spring with some swarm lure. The hive’s designer says it does best with an early season primary swarm, so that is what we are going to try and capture straight into the new hive.

4) Farm building
The only building on the property was the house with a two car garage and now the chicken coop we built last winter. We need a proper building for storage and work space. This will be next Spring at the earliest and looking at something like a 30X50. It needs to have a place to work on cars/trucks – hopefully with a lift. Since we are looking at getting goats in the future, we would also like it to have some over hang area to store hay. It will have electricity and I would like to add a water well and plumbing since it wont be close to the house. Any one else setup a new building and have thoughts on other things we need to consider?

5) Pool
Ok, while this might not be the most homesteady of projects, we really want one. We had a 21 foot above ground pool at our last house and there is nothing like jumping in to cool off after a day of splitting wood or working on the car in the heat, etc. The long term plan would be to get a very nice in-ground pool installed, but due to our rocky, hilly location that is a current budget buster. Short-term while the son-in-law is clearing a spot for the greenhouse, we hope he will be willing to clear/level another area for an above ground pool. That is for late spring/early summer next year.

How about you? What big build projects do you have planned in the next 12 months?

Barn Quilt – Working Together

My Lovely Wife (LW) is the best partner I could ask for here on the Ridge. She will suit up and go into an angry bee hive with me, process meat chickens, and pretty much go along with any crazy idea I am willing to try myself. The other side of that coin is I have to be willing to work with her when she decides to do something.

In this example, I wanted chickens and not only did she go along with it but she chipped in and help me build the coop. Of course that meant it was a much fancier coop than I first envisioned, but in the end it turned out great and workable for me and the birds. So now the other shoe drops. She has been going on about and pointing out barn quilts. If you dont know it is a quilt design that is usually painted on the top front of a barn for decoration purposes best I can tell.

So two weeks ago when my youngest daughter was visiting, they both got out the craft paints and made a barn quilt with the expectation it would be placed on the chicken coop. While I wasn’t 100% against it, I really didn’t want to climb a ladder to hang it in the 100 degree July heat. Yup, lost that one too. So here for your enjoyment is the end result.

Chicken Coop Barn Quilt

Chicken Coop Barn Quilt

The chickens couldn’t be prouder!

Du Quoin Street Machine Nationals 2016

Nothing related to the Ridge today, but went to a great car show this weekend – Du Quoin Street Machine Nationals!

The weather was hot and the cars were hotter. My best friend and I have attended this show for many years. We were sad when they stopped it for several years, but now it is back and better than ever. While I have a love for all things Mustang, this is a great show to see a variety of cars. I highly recommend you mark your calendar for the third weekend in June next year!

When asked why, the V8 Prorsche owner said “why not?”


When I said “variety” this is what I meant – a blown V8 bicycle.

A few more just for giggles!
















Stone Hill Ridge Summer 2016 Update


Since if finally stopped raining and the sun came out I think I can actually call it a garden.  The tomatoes have gone crazy and I had to stake them.  I cut a few small cedars to build a structure to stretch string across.
Other things are doing ok, but not great.  Peppers, artichokes, lettuce, corn, egg plant, and squashes.  I am trying a new short season corn, supposed to harvest in 55 days.  Well it is about 8 inches tall and I can already see tiny ears of corn.


The bees appear to be doing great. I say “appear” because my mantra this year is “leave them alone”.  They are coming and going in good numbers and still finding pollen.  I won’t go into the hives again until July 3rd and yes it is killing me!


We processed our meat chickens last weekend.  11 out of 11 survived.  I didn’t weigh them, but would put them up against anything in the local store.  After cooling them for 24 hours, we vacuum sealed them all, freezing 5 whole, parting out 5, and cooking one immediately.

There are also still 6 out of 6 Jr. Roosters.  This last week they are taking turns trying to roost under the coop instead of in the coop.  I chase them around in the dark cursing until in the end they sleep IN the coop.  Like little rebellious teenagers. UGH!


No changes regarding the rabbits.  They are NOT enjoying the heat.  On the 90+ degree days I give them each a frozen two liter bottle of water around noon to get through the hottest part of the day.  Still looking for a pedigreed American Blue doe or two, if any one has them for sale.


The house was in great shape when we bought it.  But since my last update post we have replaced the roof and installed an attic fan.  Next up in early fall is geothermal heating and cooling.

Swarm Trap Success – sort of

The plan was to replace the two hives we lost last season by purchasing a package for one and trying to catch a swarm for the other. The logic being that a swarm trap actually cost less than a package or nuc and the bees would be local and strong and ready to go. After the first swarm, any bees caught would basically be free! The next part of the logic was a trap would be easier than finding a swarm in a tree and “dropping” into a box and then into a hive. Well…..

We bought the trap on eBay and I would highly recommend the seller Riley Honey Farm. He answered our questions, made suggestions, and even called me during this whole fiasco to offer advice.

So the trap was placed according to all the things I could find on the internet. Up in the fork of a tree, near water, near forage, morning sun, afternoon shade, blah, blah, blah.

Bee Swarm Trap

This bee swarm trap is installed on the edge of the glade.

Then we waited. A bit over zealous I placed it out on April 1st, a little early for our area but didn’t want to miss any swarms. On sunny days there was activity at the trap which made me feel good about the trap placement.

Last Tuesday our package of bees arrived, read about it here “Bees are back in town”. That was a cold rainy day, but the weather improved on Wednesday and the traffic at the trap significantly picked up. We began to worry our new package was considering moving out of the hive and into the trap. I kept a close eye on both and then it happened on Thursday afternoon some time between noon and 2pm (yes I was checking every couple of hours) the swarm arrived.

I was so excited! The sheer number of bees let me know this was not my new package of bees. Now I waited for the swarm to move into the trap and carefully planed my next moves to get it into a hive. Because the new hive location was close, I understood I needed to move the trap at least three miles away for at least a week and then I could move it back without worry of the bees returning to the original trap location.

Swarm trap day 1

Swarm trap day 1

Swarm trap day 1 side view

Swarm trap day 1 side view

So we waited, as slowly over the next three days the bees moved under the trap and along the main tree trunk.
Swarm trap day 2

Swarm trap day 2

And waited, on Friday afternoon I baited the hive and placed it at the base of the tree about 3 feet off the ground hoping they would move in directly. No luck.
Swarm trap day 3

Swarm trap day 3

We had a family wedding to attend on Saturday so there was no time to mess with the bees, but I was seeing a lot of bees dancing/wiggling on the swarm and was worried the bees might be getting ready to move to a new location.

Sadly here is where the pictures end, but early Sunday morning (3 days after the swarm arrived) we suited up and decided to “place” the swarm in the new hive. First I brushed the bees into a cardboard box which was easier to handle up and down a ladder than the hive box. My lovely wife would then dump the box contents into the hive. At this point the bees were a bit cranky, so we moved quickly. Almost too quickly, there were bees everywhere. Since the bees were basically on the main trunk of the tree at this point I was making a sweeping motion with my bee brush and missing the box with a lot of bees. We did what we could and then stood back. Almost immediately the bees on the top of the hives started fanning, butts in the air. This behavior indicates the queen was most likely in the hive and they were spreading scent to let the other bees know the new location. We left it alone for about an hour and a half and by then the tree only had a few stranglers left and the hive was full. I placed the top on it and transported it to the new location.

As of Tuesday morning the new hive appears to be doing well. There is what I would consider normal activity, coming and going, and even pollen being brought in. We will give them a week or so to settle in completely and then do a hive inspection on both hives to confirm we have a laying queens. Fun, fun, fun!

After talking with trap maker, we decided this most likely happened because a frame was blocking the trap entrance. The new design has a block on the frame rail to keep this from happening. When I re-installed the trap I removed two frames and pushed the others to the outside. I checked it again after climbing the ladder and before securing the trap to the tree to make sure no frame was near the entrance and the next swarm could walk right in!