This is the life!

While this rural life can be great during spring and summer, I truely love fall and winter.  What a great day it was today!

The day started sitting in a frosty tree stand.  It is deer season here and with sunrise later and later I didn’t even have to get up early.  I always dreamed of this day when instead of getting up early and driving for more than an hour to hunt I could just get up and walk out back.  It now takes me longer to get dressed in several layers, than to get to my stand.  It was a balmy 25 degrees, but I loved every minute of it.  Plus since I am fortunate enough to work remotely,  I was able to sleep in, hunt for 2 hours an still get to work on time.

It was going to be the last relatively warm day for a while so I took the opportunity to feed the bees the sugar bricks I had made according to Laurie’s recipe.  I cut it down since I only have two hives and it turned out not too bad.  When I got to the hives it was about 2pm and 48 degrees.   There were a couple of bees out flying so I figured it was safe to open up the hive.  I was ecstatic too see clustered bees. A couple were none to happy I left the door open, overall things looked good.  I quickly placed half the sugar brick in each hive and closed them back up.   There is normally a warm spell in January, so will check on them again and see if the need more sugar.  Otherwise beekeeping is over for 2016.

After a normal work day, it was holiday date night.  Meaning we headed to town for dinner, shoppping, and a live nativity presentation.  The shopping included buying our live Christmas and black oil seeds to keep our winter feeders full.  The nativity presentation was a drive through setup of the life of Jesus.  I had to laugh a little since the specific nativity part consisted of two small goats.  I give an A for a good overall effort.

We spent Thanksgiving at Universal Studios Orlando with the family where it was 80 degrees both days, so we are planning to have a mini turkey dinner tomorrow with all the trimmings.  Personally I am only in it for the pumpkin pie!

Jump to the comments and share about your fall/winter activities.

Bee Keeping Journal – 2016 – Quilt box – Bee update

Winter Hive Setup 2016

Winter Hive Setup 2016

This time last year I was cleaning out the beehives.  We lost both hives from that first year.  My initial summation was they we overwhelmed by hive beetles due to a bad location.  While I still think the location was bad (too much shade and moisture) I have come to the conclusion the beetles probably took over after a mite investation damaged the hive beyond repair.  We didn’t check or treat for mites last year.

This year the first of September in a hasty rush we treated with MAQS.  Why hasty, well really I didn’t feel qualified to test and count mites and everything I ready online said “you have mites” even if you don’t think you do.  So before we ran out of warm days, we treated.  Feel free to flame me in the comments for not testing first or because you believe in being treatment free.  The treatment went well and in part due to the new location the beetle count was down, not great but much better than last year.

Both hives were low on stores, the fall flow seemed bad based on what little I know in my second year.  The 2:1 sugar syrup feeding begin and continued through October at which point both hives appeared to have two mostly full deeps and were active and still bringing in pollen from who knows where.  The feeder was removed and two more frames of empty comb were added in its place.

Last item before winter was to build and install a quilt box.  This became a priority as we are forcasted to have our first frost this next week.  The box was made from 1×4 and lined with metal screen.  It was filled half full of the same wood shavings we use for the chickens and placed on top above the shim.  The shim will allow us to add a sugar brick on each hive later in the season.  The shavings are supposed to wick moisture from the hive and allow it to evaporate out ventilation holes instead of dripping back into the hive and freezing the bees.

Winter HIve Quilt Box 2016

Winter HIve Quilt Box 2016

For now the bees are busy during the heat of the day and they are ready for winter as best we know how.

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!

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!

DIY Wood Shed and cleaning up the woods!

Seems we have started a tradition where we do a building project in between snow storms for the winter months to keep us active and off the couch. Last year it was the chicken coop build and this year it was a wood shed. A part of that tradition also seems to going a little over the top. We didn’t really need such a big chicken coop and we probably don’t need two oversized wood sheds. 🙂

We have a fireplace and while we would love to say we are using wood to heat the house, we are just not there yet. So really we don’t need THAT much firewood. The wood sheds became a building project for this year because we took down several large trees to clear a new garden area, as well as several piles of firewood spread across the property from storm damage or downed trees. My Lovely Wife (LW) decided we needed to “clean up the woods”. While I tried to protest and explain the woodland animals didn’t care if we left the woods a little messy, but she was having none of it. Yes Dear!

The plans we started with were once again from – wood shed plans. Of course we had to expand on the plan sizes and build two. The base is 4X8 and they are about 6ft at the front. The building is complete with a little work to do on the roof, since we ran out of shingles. We used pressure treated lumber for the base and post, the remainder being un-treated. We spaced the floor boards and side rails to allow for good airflow and save a little on lumber cost. I know there is some alternate opinions out there, but if you consider a cord of wood to be 4X4X8, then each of these should hold about a cord of wood.

Here are a couple of pictures for your viewing enjoyment.
Right Side Complete Wood Shed

Both Wood Sheds

Left Side Complete Wood Shed

Both Wood Sheds Full of Wood

Left Side Wood Shed Full of Wood

The Robin Invasion!

Strange happenings here on the Ridge!  Well “were” happening.  I started this post a while back, so this was actually in late November.

One of the things we love about living in the woods is the variety of wild birds we get at the feeder just outside our bedroom window.  We even got a book so we could identify them.  We have chickadees, grey titmouse, 2-3 varieties of woodpeckers, on and on.  One odd thing is the cardinals seems to show up just at sunset, so we started calling them vampires.  :). The one bird we had not seen and thought was weird was a robin.  Had plenty of them in the city, but none since we moved out.

So in the last week of November I started noticing a lot of movement out the window.  Upon closer inspection I discovered it was a large flock of robins.  Hundreds of them!  None seemed to be interested in the feeder, they were just working through the leaves and underbrush.

As odd as this was, even odder is it went on for several days.  And then as quickly as they appeared they were all gone.  A quick Google search shows that Robins do migrate, although more sporadically than some species.  Just glad they chose to route through my back yard this year!

Pictures of Fall 2015

Went down to the river last night with my beautiful wife and did a little fall small mouth fishing. While the fishing was just so-so, the view was incredible.

Moon over the river bank

Moon over the river bank

Sun setting over the river

Sun setting over the river

River with fall colors

River with fall colors

Fall colors

Fall colors

As an added bonus there was a great sunrise this morning. If you look close you can see my beehives in the lower part of the picture.

Sun rising over the bee hives

Sun rising over the bee hives

Chicken Lock Down

A quick post that I will update later with pictures of the new enclosure.

It appears our original plan to free range the chickens will have to be rethought. While the birds seem to love the freedom, it has come at a cost in both lives and landscaping.

First of all in lives. I am sad to report that in a two week period we lost two guinea fowl and four chickens, before a single egg was laid. I put up a trail camera and although I didn’t catch it in the act, there is strong evidence of a coyote in the area. One evening while watching TV, my son saw something moving through the backyard. We had discovered piles of feathers in this area indicating it was where bad things were happening. So he took at it! He didn’t get a good look at it and thought it might be a fox, but I think it was the coyote. My son was able to follow it (at a full run) several acres over on to a neighbors property before he lost it in the thick woods. It has been over a week and no new loses, but cant count it.

Second in landscaping. While I fully understand there would be some damage to the minimal landscaping we have, but with 22 acres I guess I thought it would be “minimal”. At first it was fine, a peck here and plant there. Then the rain started and it rained almost every day for a couple of weeks. Apparently this drove the birds up to the house and into the landscaping where they systematically ate most all of it right down to the ground and then scratched up the mulch to make sure they didn’t miss anything. We were not amused and determined that they would need a proper enclosure for “their own safety”! We still plan to free range them on weekends and times that we can be outside and watch them, but otherwise they will be enclosed.

Currently it is a 6 foot wire fence wrapped around the trees that naturally surround the coop, so folks with OCD who prefer a square or rectangular chicken run would have a fit. We like to call it all-natural. Currently there is no overhead netting, we will keep an eye out for flying predators and decide if we need that later.

I actually planned to build something eventually as I plan to have a garden once we clear a few trees, but this just accelerated the build plans.