It’s getting hot in here…

It is July.  The skies are a beautiful blue (when it’s not storming like a really angry superhero) and the mountains are clear.  It is also hot.  I love hot.  My dogs do not love hot.  Why do I love hot?  I love hot because it is not cold.  Not rocket science, people.  I am not a fan of cold weather and would rather it be hot outside than cold.  However, I prefer it to be cold inside. What?!  Ok, since you are not currently sitting in my head watching my thoughts parade around, I will explain it:  if it is hot outside and cold inside, I can come in and cool down and I can go out and warm up.  If it was hot outside and hot inside…no relief.  When I am inside, I can warm up way more easily than I can cool down. This presents a bit of a sad situation in the summer, however.  In the summer, I can’t open the windows or the doors to “let the breeze come through”. There are wonderful cross breezes the way the doors and windows are situated, but because it is so HOT outside this would just mean there would be HOT cross breezes.  No good.  It is good when you are at the beach…but not good in my house.  Now that you know all of the above, we can move on to more important information.  You know, the stuff you actually came here to learn about.

What is happening here at the homestead?  Well, quite a lot actually.  We have been busy little bees around here!  Did you catch that? Hee hee!  I love some good bee humor.  The whole bee humor really only applies if you actually have bees though, so don’t try to use it if you don’t.  Watch out, there might be more bee humor in this post. Don’t say I didn’t warn you….

Pool: We built pergolas.  Two of them.  When I say “we” I really mean the Hubs and some great people who volunteered their time to help. Namely Michael Bates and my sister and her husband.  Thank you!  I did help some on the big one but not at all on the small one.  But they are awesome! We moved the hot tub under the smaller one and will be putting some furniture and a ceiling fan in the bigger one.  You may notice that the big one has a “wall” on the back.  We initially just put a chair rail on it so we didn’t fall off the deck backwards, but then we thought the boards would be a better way to shade the area in the late afternoon and we were right.  Now, when I say “we” moved the hot tub, I really mean the Hubs.  I put the rollers under it, but he was the one that did all the heavy lifting and rolling!!  At some point we will put a big ole sun sail across part of the pool to provide a little shade, too.

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We also enclosed the pool pump area with a fun little fence and once the pergola wood dries we will stain the pergolas and the fencing.  I have been stalking Pintrest to figure out how to make the fence a bit more whimsical and fun, so if you have any creative ideas, I am all ears!  We built the solar panel frame and installed the solar panels.  We haven’t hooked the solar panels to the pool yet but anticipate that we will be running them at night to COOL the pool rather than heat it, at least this summer.  I must say, I LOVE THIS POOL!

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Garden: Did I mention how hot it has been and humid?  That makes for some sweaty days in the garden for sure.  The garden is going quite well. We have pulled out the lettuce, kale and brussels sprout plants and given them to the chickens. Unfortunately that means I had to go out and buy lettuce. From the grocery store. My new plan is to grow lettuce all year long.  We have an indoor growing apparatus for herbs and lettuce, so I am going to break that puppy out and get it going! We just have to figure out where to put it. I was just so ashamed when I bought that bag of lettuce.  It took me a while to get over it.

Our cucumbers, zucchini, sugar snap peas, and corn have been buzzing along quite well except for the golden zucchini.  We lost that one due to lack of water.  Yes, we have a sprinkler in the garden and yes, it works.  Sometimes things just happen.  The tomatoes have been a bit iffy.  Why?  Turns out we made a bit of a boo boo in the expanded section of the garden.  We failed to put in lime.  Why has this been a problem?  This has been a problem because it has led to blossom end rot on our tomatoes.  This is great for the chickens because they are getting a plethora of tomatoes to eat, but a little bit of a bummer for us since it is affecting how many tomatoes we get to eat. Vegetables need calcium for healthy development. When tomatoes, peppers, melons, and eggplant can’t get enough from the soil, the tissues on the blossom end of the fruit break down. The calcium shortage may be because the soil lacks calcium, or calcium is present but is tied up in the soil chemistry because the pH is too low. Not to worry, they make a product that will help with this issue and we will soon be putting it to use!  Here’s a fun thing…we have two tomato plants growing at the chicken house!  Who knew our chickas were farmers?  Last year we threw the pruned tomato branches and the plants from the end of the season into the runs…the plants are growing outside of the run which is even better.  The only issue I anticipate will be that the Yellow Dog will have a field day once they start producing!  He is the reason I have few cherry tomatoes in my herb garden!  Have I mentioned how amazing our corn has been?  So yummy.

First year of corn has been a success and I do believe we will be growing it again next year.  The stalks that the harvested corn came from are much taller than the picture, but you get the idea.  The lima beans aren’t ready but are growing well.  The pepper plants are huge, but not quite producing like last year.  This may be a result of the lack of lime/calcium issue too.  We also are growing spaghetti squash along with pickling cucumbers.  So, one day, we were looking at what we thought were the pickling cucumber plants and thought, what is wrong with these?  These cucumbers are fat and kind of yellowish.  Not enough water?  Too much? Low and behold we forgot that we planted spaghetti squash and these in fact were beautiful spaghetti squashes, not cucumbers.  Same flowers and almost the same leaves…honest mistake.  And our pickling cucumbers have not done well probably because I have sorely neglected them.  Oh well.

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Chickens: As you know, we got chicks!  We have moved them into their temporary outdoor home, the Chicken Tractor.  They are growing so fast and have even learned to walk up the ramp into the house!  Not sure how much time they actually spend in the house, but they sure do love to climb the ramp and jump off.  Ever see that video on the internets with the ducklings that ride the conveyor belt up to the slide and slide down over and over?  It’s kind of like that…cute as all get out…

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Now, don’t get me wrong, the chicks themselves are not very cute right NOW.  They definitely are going through quite the ugly duckling phase. But I promise, they really will get awesome looking.  I think we may have at least one rooster in there, too..time and the cockle doodle doing will tell.  They haven’t quite grown enough to use the regular feeder that is in the tractor with them, so we have kept the smaller PVC pipe one in for them that we used in the box.  They are naturals at pecking the water nipples and have had no problem with that once we showed them how. We showed each one how to do it when we put them in and that’s all it took.  We wrapped the bottom half of the tractor with plastic and put cardboard behind the plastic to keep their heads from getting eaten by the canines if they were to put them through the chicken wire, to keep the bedding from being thrown out when they kick it around and also to keep heat in and rain out.  Are you wondering how we got them from the box to the tractor?  No, we didn’t just dump them out of the box into the tractor.  Sheesh…you people are harsh!  The Hubs got into the tractor (yep, into the tractor), I held the box on the corner outside and he picked each one out individually from the box and put it in the tractor.  Worked like a charm.  Once they get around 3-4 months or so, we will put them into the big runs.  Once they start to lay at about 9 months (hopefully) we will set a date to take 16 of the hens across the rainbow bridge and into our freezer.

I am really excited about the new ones laying because the old ones, they suck at it.  Now that they are getting up there in age, they are not very cooperative in the laying department.  We have 10 hens that are at least 2 years old if not older and the rest are just over a year old.  One of the 2-year-old hens has become broody and refuses to leave the laying box although she isn’t actually sitting on anything, which means she is on a permanent vacation from laying until we can get her un-broody.  So, that means almost half of the flock are old and certainly not laying down on the job.  We have been getting at best 11-13 a day and at worst 6-7 eggs a day.  That is roughly half of what we got this time last year!  I have been talking sweetly to them and asking them nicely to “lay some freaking eggs” (since calling them ugly names didn’t work), giving them lots of fun treats and making sure they have plenty of sand for their baths. I guess I just can’t compete with nature (again).

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I don’t know if you remember, but we lost a chicken last year over July 4th weekend.  Guess what?! It happened again!  We lost another chicken to a broken neck July 4th weekend!  It was prior to any fireworks by the way.  I know you, that is the first thing that popped into your head isn’t it?  Well, we haven’t figured out how she met her maker, but she did.  I was sad.  We lost little runty.  She was one of the first Dominiques that we got and she was, as her name implies, the runt.  The only one I sort of named, other than the not so nice names I call the ladies if they peck me (and here lately don’t lay).  So, if you don’t mind, a moment of silence for little runty.

Bees: WE GOT HONEY this year!  Not just one frame like last year, but 10!  That’s right, our girls have given us some liquid gold.  We went in a bit early and only were able to pull 10 frames since the rest were not capped or not completely capped. We left those that weren’t capped or completely capped because that generally means the moisture content is too high and the girls aren’t finished making it awesome.  I bought an electric capping knife and a two frame hand cranked extractor and they worked so well!  Since we extracted them without scraping all of the comb off the frames, we were able to put the empty comb back in the supers for them to clean and fill again!  We don’t have to wait for them to draw out more comb to fill which means less work and more honey.  It’s a beeeautiful thing!  🙂  I did an inspection today and they have rebuild the comb and have been filling it pretty well.

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What the heck are you looking at?  The first one is the uncapping knife, the second one is the extractor, the third is the inside of the extractor, the fourth is the bucket and honey gate we used to put the honey into once we it was extracted and the fifth is a frame once we extracted all of the honey out.  Once the uncapping knife is hot, you run it over the honeycomb to cut the caps off of the cells.  Once the frames are uncapped and open we put the frame in the extractor.  The extractor has two baskets that hold one frame each.  It can be medium frames or a deep frames.  You spin the frames for a little bit and then you turn them around and spin it again to get the other side clean.  It’s like Wheel of Fortune where every spin wins!! All the honey goes into the bottom of the extractor barrel.  From there we open the honey gate on the extractor and let it flow and filter it through two strainers into the bucket. Inside the bucket we have a nylon cheesecloth bag which is the final filter.  From there, it goes into the jars!  We got 8 quarts from this extraction!  Unfortunately we ended up having the honey gate on upside down so it made it a bit more challenging, but we muddled through and filled up a bunch of jars with sweet, light wildflower honey.  We have fixed this mechanical error and are ready for a fall harvest.  Yes, we have no honey today (sing along…. you know you want to).  What we had available went as fast as….well, it went fast.

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Are you wondering what I do with the cappings???  Glad you asked!  First, I will answer the question I know you have, “what are cappings?”  The cappings are the wax covers over each of the comb cells that hold the honey.  That’s how they keep it all from just flowing out of the comb!  We cut them off with our hot uncapping knife (original name I know) into a plastic tote and then scooped them out and put them into the same two strainers I used for the honey because there is honey that we melted with the uncapping knife mixed in with the cappings.  So I allowed the cappings to drain and then I melted the remaining wax 3 times in a pot letting it cool and harden each time and wiping off the residual honey that was too stubborn to drain and clung for life to the wax each time.  Melting the wax allows for the honey that didn’t drain to separate from the wax.  You have to do it a couple of times to get the heated honey off the wax when it cools and solidifies.  So you are left with bee’s wax!  My bee’s wax still has just a few bits of honey that I couldn’t quite get off but (the brown spots), but I was able to get that out when I melted it again to make lip balm.  It’s a beeeautiful smooth piece of wax!  Not bad for my first time. Did you notice that I said I made lip balm?!  I did and it turned out great!  More on that a little later, though…I have this train of thought and I don’t want to derail it…otherwise, who knows what I might start writing about? Anyway, gotta build that anticipation so that you actually finish the blog post.

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The FlowHive down below had honey in it when we harvested, but it was not a whole frame and it wasn’t capped.  I am hoping that we will get a harvest from the FlowHive before fall so we can see it in action but as of today’s inspection, that is a no go!  We are going into the dearth…no, I don’t have a lisp.  The dearth is the time of year when there are few flowering plants/trees that contain nectar, so no nectar for the ladies to collect, so no more honey to be produced until the fall flow.  I was hoping all of the yellow clover we planted would be blooming by now and we could continue a little bit of flow all summer, but alas, it is not.  Not one single flower.  But!  We do have peaches and apples that are growing in the orchard!!  But I digress….back to the bees.  I anticipate we will treat the hives soon now that we have done a harvest so that we get ahead of any mite issue so that it can’t become an issue.  I plan to treat this summer and this fall and possible at some point this winter just to make sure the hives make it through winter without a problem.  Since we left lots of frame of honey on the hives, they will have plenty to eat during this time of year and will be able to fill the frames back up with a fall flow and I don’t believe I will need to feed them.  Once we finished our extraction, we put the extractor and the cappings tote in the orchard in front of the hives so they could clean them.  Inevitable there will be honey you just can’t get and they are quite willing to clean it up for you.  It only took them a few hours or so to do it…those bees don’t mess around!

I had the privilege of helping Mojo Bee Company (and my mentor) with their final harvest this week.  We were able to get right about 50 supers of honey off the hives in one of their apiaries.  That is a lot of honey to extract!  I just helped them get the boxes so I did the easy part.  I think I will be using their clever way to get the bees off the frames next time.  I just brushed them off of the frames with a bee brush which of course really made them mad.  Not the best way.  Mojo Bee Company has lids that they put some smelly stuff  (called Bee Go) on and put on top of the hive and the bees all scramble out of the box to get away from the smell.  It is awful but doesn’t affect the honey at all and doesn’t harm the bees.  You can see the black tops in the picture below.  Then, you take the box off and blow the stragglers out with a leaf blower.  Pretty simple and very few mad bees. Happy bees make life so much better and harvesting easier!  This beekeeping stuff is a constant learning process!  Work smarter, not harder!

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I did an inspection today and found lots of bees and lots of work being done on the frames.  Looks like they have rebuilt and refilled the ones we harvested but not capped yet.  The horizontal hive has lots of bees and they are doing pretty well with honey frames, but not quite as well as the other hives but they are filling bigger frames.  In the first picture you’ll see lots of bees all over the top of the frames on half of the frames and those are the ones with brood in them.  The rest of the ones to the right are some of the ones with honey and the bees are all over the frames but not on top.  The second picture is when I put the inner cover back on the horizontal hive and everyone was flowing back into the hive!  The next pictures are some of the frames in the hive we took to harvest and they show them built back up and being worked.  It was a hot inspection today! I was by myself for this one so not so many pictures.  Just noticed that the second one looks like I am toting around a meat cleaver!  Wow.  So that is my hive tool that helps me get all the stuff unstuck so I can open it…not quite the ominous looking cutting utensil that it appears to be.

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Now, to the lip balm!  Since I had such beautiful wax from the harvest, I decided to make lip balm. Not really enough to make more than a small candle and really, I don’t want to make candles right now.  So there.  Anyhoo, I melted some wax, melted some organic coconut oil, poured in some of our honey and mixed them together and BAM! got honey lip balm.  I added some peppermint extract in some and BAM! got mint lip balm!  So, as you can read, our lip balm is all natural and has only 3 or 4 ingredients depending on your flavor preference.  Nope, I am not going to tell you my recipe. Yes, I know I just told you what was in it, but I am not going to tell you how much of each.  Since I am not a Colonel, I can only say that it is the Judge’s secret recipe. Yes to your next question! I am in fact selling this lip balm and you can head on over to our new store over there on the right side of the screen close to the bottom of the black box →→→

In the store you can see how many of what we have left and you can order some and I will send it to you!  I only have a few things left…hooray!  In the future, there will be honey in the store (hopefully) and some time down the road I think we might do some T-shirts and hats!If this strikes your interest, please let me know as that might just move the process along to actually doing it.  We have actually made some koozies (can and bottle) that we are using for ourselves and guests at the pool.   If you think you might be interested in koozies, let me know that too and we might just be persuaded to part with some!

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Now, here is a very pretty picture of our hydrangeas….well, ok, one hydrangea flower that I thought was exceptionally nice. Just because it’s pretty.

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Here are two fun pictures of a worker bee.  Just beecause it’s neat.  Bees rock!

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Lastly, since I can, I will shamelessly promote my new venture:  I am an independent consultant with Rodan+Fields skin care!! Most of you that read this blog already know due to my continuous (or as I like to call them, consistent) posts on Facebook, but for those of you that don’t, now you do!  If you are interested in getting amazing skin care and/or starting your own venture, let me know and I can hook you up! 🙂 www.mlelonek.myrandf.com

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Boy that Nelly knows all about summer!  A final word of advice, there actually are inappropriate times to take your clothes off!  Happy summer everyone and stay cool!

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