So Hey, Where You Been?

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Let me start with an honest apology for leaving anyone who is interested in this blog hanging for a year. That was wrong and I would love to give you some really dramatic life changing reason why we did not post, but there isn’t one.

For those of us old enough to remember letter writing, did you ever start writing to a distant loved one and then you skipped a day? That was cool, you can make it up tomorrow. OK, maybe not but you will write an extra letter next week. WHAT! Its been a month??

Now you are just embarrassed, humiliated and have no idea what to say to make it right. Then, well then, its a year, and they are wondering what they did to make you hate them.

So that is kind of what we were going through. Oh yes, there was drama and business and emergency peppered with rank foolishness, but those are excuses and I learned early and the hard way not to make excuses.

So, instead of excuses… I make jokes.

TOP 10 REASONS WE DID NOT WRITE IN THE BLOG

TEN: We were kidnapped by aliens:

Seeing as how my “other job” is working the overnight shift in an all night diner, this is not as far-fetched as it might appear. Some of the people who stagger, slither, swagger and sway into my place of business around 2 AM are probably aliens.

However, I do not believe they are the kidnapping type alien, nor are they the SWALLOW YOU WHOLE while slobbering acidic slime type aliens. My alien customers are probably no more dangerous than your average Unitarian.

NINE: Meeko ate our blog posts:

Again, there is an element of believably in this for anyone who knows our Meeko. Saying that Meeko has a voracious appetite is something of an understatement. The only thing we know he won’t eat is Libby and, if you notice, she has a tendency to keep moving.

Meeko sets no store by all that chewing and tasting foolishness. He goes directly to the swallowing part. So, had our blog post landed somewhere near his food bowl, which is to say anywhere he could reach, he might very well have eaten them had there been anything to eat.

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Meeko who loves to lick faces and eat things that would make a buzzard wretch. But he’s my dog.

EIGHT: Donald Trump did it:

I have no idea where I am going with that, and it makes no sense, but it seems to be working for the media.

SEVEN: I won the World Series of Poker:

Again, no idea where that came from. I used to be a fair to middlin’ poker player, but I haven’t played in years. If I, in fact, paid the entry fee to get into the World Series of Poker, that would explain why we had not written. I would be dead and Connie would be doing time.

SIX: Our Internet Connection Went Out:

I know who’s internet goes out for a year? Considering our home phone lines will have been down for over a month, when and if we get it fixed that is not as far-fetched as it first appears. No, it isn’t true, but it is quite possible out here in the hinterlands. God bless country living.

FIVE: (INSERT CONSPIRACY THEORY ORGANIZATION HERE) Forced us to quit writing our blog:

I know its silly, but I just added upwards of a hundred Wing Nuts to our followers.

FOUR: Connie was called back to Active Duty to assist Military Intelligence in finding out what happened to the World’s Supply of Common Sense:

I don’t know anything about it. Connie couldn’t tell me and, at my age, I would have forgotten by now anyway.

THREE: I was arrested and convicted of Reckless Walking and Attempting to Crawl:

No, don’t worry, I am still sober (nine years now), but many years ago I did get held for a few hours in a small Texas town and when I asked about the charge, the big Police Officer used that phrase. As a Word Mechanic, I have loved it ever since.

TWO: I spent the year on a mountain in Tibet learning to meditate:

Yeah right, if I spent a year on a mountain in Tibet I would have been meditating on how to GET OFF THE MOUNTAIN!!!

ONE: We were working on a series about homemade musical instruments. I was asked by Connie to make a kind of bass out of a pole, a washtub and some string. Its been a year and at least I know where the washtub is.

The law is called Entropy, and it states that any closed system has a tendency to run down over a period of time unless you add energy to it. We just quit adding energy.

Anyway, we are back and we are sorry for the delay.

Right now I have to go make a bass, if I can find a decent pole.

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BEEginning Again Part 2

The last time I wrote about re-starting my bee venture, I told you I had lost two hives late last year to Small Hive Beetles. This year I bought two packets, and they have been delivered, but first I want to talk about my clean-up for Hive Beetles.

Overall it is pretty simple. You want to kill the beetles and the larva, and you want to clean out any slime or residue from the infestation. As my friend Tammie George at Crooked Hill Bee Keeping says it, “Bees are better housekeepers than we are.” Mainly you just need to get the ugly stuff left by the beetles out, and let the bees do the rest.

Killing the beetles and making certain they are gone is another matter. Small Hive Beetles can live as long as six months. So I did some exploring and asked some questions of bee friends and got the same idea. Freeze the hive boxes, the frames and the foundations. I left each hive box in the freezer for a month.

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This is what we were working with, I had frozen the hive boxes and set them aside until this day.

Then comes the cleaning. I used a wire brush and two different scrapers to get the majority of all the old comb, and beetle residue, off the hive boxes and the frames. After that, I washed them in hot vinegar water. There are some who use bleach water, but I am leery of non-organic solutions.

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As I said, it is a mess.

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This view is of a brood frame where the Queen laid eggs. This is what the beetles attack. Honey frames are easily cleaned out and they are clean and yellow. Brood is darker comb and it does not want to come off. Add in the smell of the beetles and it is not pretty.

After I finished I let them dry outside in the sun. I was very happy to see some of the girls (not my bees; they were not here yet), hanging around the old frames, pulling off comb and digging out pollen I had missed.

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It is a sticky job, but someone has to do it.

A word about prevention before I close. My mistake was not thinking the beetles would get to me because I interrupted their life cycle. There was no dirt under my hives for the larva to get into because the hives were sat on concrete. I did not take elementary precautions such as simple cheap beetle traps. Now both of my hives have beetle traps in them, and the ground and concrete around the table where my hives sit is salted with diatomaceous earth.  The tuition at the College of Hard Knocks is expensive to our pocket books, our egos and several thousand bees who I let down. I will make more mistakes but not that one ever again.

The following chart came from my first link at the top of this post which links to an article from the University of Arkansas extension service. I would suggest you look at he whole article, it is very informative.

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Being me, I let some of it wait longer than I should. However, I got it done in time to move the girls and the Big Girl into their new homes. In the next post I will introduce you.

Eight Endangered Skills

In his post last week, Ed mentioned how leather reminds him of his grandfather. I have a similar relationship with leather, but mine comes from time spent in my dad’s shoe shop when I was a little girl.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the counter in the shoe shop. I was probably three or four years old. Dad would let me play with leather scraps. I remember turning the hand crank of the leather cutter and watching the split pieces of leather come out the other side. I remember shelves that held customers shoes.  People came in all day long, dropping off or picking up shoes for my dad to fix.

The equipment from Dad’s shop came from his father-in-law, my grandpa. When he was a young man, Grandpa had worked in his father’s shop just a few blocks from where Dad’s shop was located. The first time he saw my grandma, Grandpa was working in that shop, but that is a story for another time.

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My grandpa at his shoe shop. The calendar behind him says January 1956. He would have been 35 years old. Notice the shoes on the shelves behind him.

Today, as far as I can tell, shoe repair has nearly disappeared.  That got me thinking about other lost, or endangered, skills and crafts. I even asked my friends on my personal Facebook page what they considered a lost art. Several of them said things, like “listening”,“using proper grammar”, and “common courtesy” which are definitely endangered, but not really within the scope of this blog.

Here are eight that we came up with.

  1. Shoe Repair
  2. Black Smithing
  3. Small Appliance Repair
  4. Reading the Weather
  5. Orienteering (Ed suggested this one).
  6. Foraging
  7. Making and playing home made instruments. This one made me think about home made toys too.
  8. Making do with what you have.

Over the next few weeks, We’re going to look into each of these endangered skills, and what caused them to no longer be necessary. Then we will look at what each entailed, and what, if anything, is being done to revive, or at least preserve them. We may even try some of them ourselves. Ok, probably not black smithing, but I do have an old blender I might try to fix.

I left off things like sewing and canning, because I know many people who do those things, including people who do not consider themselves the “homesteading” type. I will say however, that those skills need to be taught to every generation.

What do you consider a lost, or endangered skill? Leave me a note in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

While I’m working on this, Ed is preparing for the new bee arrival. That will probably be the theme of his next post.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Connie

Fits Like a Glove

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This is the damage that can be caused by an adjustable wrench and a hard head.

The picture above explains why you wear work gloves. I wrote a blog post about the incident, but here is a condensed version. On the day in question, I was pulling on a very large nut with an adjustable wrench. It was holding a pulley on my riding lawn mower. One of the last thoughts I recall, before I skinned a knuckle to the bone and hurt another was, “Hey Buck, don’t you think you need to put on those high dollar work gloves you paid for?” Of course my answer to myself was, “I’ll go get ’em in a minute.”

Work gloves. We all need a pair. I work in food service, when not stumbling around my five acres cutting myself in various ways. When working in food service, it is not a good idea to have hands covered with cuts, scrapes and stains; so when working with wood, paint or other things like that, gloves are a good idea bordering on a necessity.

Me? I like leather gloves. So now I should give you a practical reason for that, right? There is none. I like leather gloves because they look, smell and feel like leather. That is a tactile sensation that dates back to my days on Grandpa’s farm.

My last two pair of work gloves were made by Kinco, and were made from buffalo leather. I have the second of those two pair sitting here beside me. This pair lasted me about three years, the first pair, almost two. This pair lasted longer because I was really reluctant to give them up.

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That spot on the back of the left one? Its my blood from putting up fencing. The gloves protected my hands and fingers, but not my forearms. The right glove’s finger seams are wearing out and have split on the middle and third finger. There is a hole worn in the middle finger of the right hand. All over the palms and fingers of both gloves ,you can feel the leather worn thin and supple. The right thumb has a small hole from some incident now forgotten. The list of scrapes, broken laces, and worn thin spots would take up pages. So why want to keep them? Why put off buying a new pair?

Because they fit me like a glove. Anything leather; a coat, a hat, a boot, a glove, that begins near the correct fit seems to adapt to the body with time. I wear a medium glove, but my hands are different sizes, and my already unique hands have been modified by time and damage. With time, sweat, use and blood, leather gloves become a part of your hands. They no longer just fit; they fit like a glove.

Before I bought my “dress boots” some six years ago, I had worn a pair of boots for untold years. The soles and heels were all but gone, and the uppers were wearing through in places. When I checked on a re-sole and heel job, it was going to cost nearly as much as buying a new pair of boots. So I bought these boots. After six years they are beginning to break in.

These gloves? They have not only protected my hands, they have become part of my memories. A lot of the story of my last couple years are sweated into them. So no, I will not throw them away right now. I will put them in my stuff drawer where I can find them, accidentally, every once in a while.

Maybe, after a couple of years I can write a follow-up to this post about this pair.

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Ed

Holding On (By the Skin of My Teeth)

Last Thursday, July 21, Connie had her heel and Achilles Tendon operated on. She will not be able to put weight on that leg for three months. That would be approximately 13 weeks, or 91 days. If you really want to know exactly what your partner does around the old place, put them off line for about a week.

Yeah, all that stuff.

So this last week I have worked 40 plus hours, put at least one real meal a day on the table, tried to make certain Connie was comfortable, did the minimums to keep the critters alive, had an occasional talk with the Lord God and slept. That would be about it. Had Katherine not enlisted to take care of her mother some of the time, I might not have been able to do that. On top of that, I am just not pleased when people start cutting on the love of my life. Makes me kinda want to punch them, but that does not seem appropriate in this case.

So the first week is about over. We have a follow-up with the doctor tomorrow, and Connie is beginning to get around a little better. After waking up early this morning to finish cutting my knee high lawn, and fighting back the rag weed and various poisonous prehistoric plants that are taking over my dog lot, I fell out for a nap. I woke up to find the dishes I had washed after dinner last night put up, the new dishes on there way to clean and a plate of French Toast and bacon courtesy of Connie and Katherine waiting for me. Thank you both.

Speaking about the lawn. Let me continue a little about things I would have done differently when I started this little experiment in Green Acres-ism. No matter how tough and resilient you might think you are, if you have an acre yard (plus or minus) you do need a riding lawn mower and a gas powered weed eater.

At least, if you are in your later years and have any intentions of doing things other than cut your lawn. If not a riding mower, I would suggest goats. That does not mean you need a high dollar rider. I bought mine used from a friend for $250.00. The gas trimmer I got at Lowes for about seventy bucks. (Lowes has a 10 percent discount for military veterans; bless their hearts.)

I set out on this adventure with my 5 HP push mower and an electric weed eater. From the closest outlet, which is just inside the front door, to the farthest point of my front yard is about 175 or so feet. I needed the gas weed eater. And I really got tired of taking two plus days to mow the lawn. Also, this next year I am planning to get a wagon I can pull behind the mower, to do some chores around the place.

Another answer that is a work in progress, is just getting rid of the lawn entirely. We are working on planting it in an edible garden, but that is Connie’s project and she is in no shape to work on it right now..

The bees are going like gang busters. We have harvest a gallon of honey from each hive and they are still full to overflowing. I am going to have to get at least one more super or rob them again this next week. Maybe both.

As I said, I am involved in a project to cut down and kill a very intimidating forest of weeds that are growing, well…. I guess like weeds. To supplement the physical labor of cutting down these monsters I wanted something that would kill the beggars while not poisoning my dogs, chickens, bees or land for a couple more generations.

I had heard of something and looked it up. This is the basic recipe that I am following.

Take one gallon of cheap old white vinegar, pour it in a bucket. Add one cup of table salt and stir it up well. To that add one tablespoon of dish washing liquid to make the stuff stick better and stir that in. Put your product in a closed, marked container and put some it in a spray bottle and spray your plants.

I cannot endorse this recipe yet and it is indiscriminate, it kills the good stuff with the bad if it works as advertised. Connie or I will report back to you on it, when we know how it works.

I will close this rambling post. I hope something in it is interesting and helpful in your walk. Any prayers for my lovely wife will be appreciated. Also, I will put all you folks on my prayer list. Don’t worry, I don’t mind if you don’t believe in God, He believes in you.

The night before they took my love in for the operation, I slept very little. At the hospital in Chilicothe, Mo. Just before the operation, Connie, Katherine and I joined hands and prayed. When I looked up the nursing staff and the Doctor were in prayer with us.

Next, after we had to go out, Kat and I went for breakfast in the cafeteria. At our table we joined hands and blessed our food. I have an old soldier’s awareness of what is around me, so I knew that the tables next to ours and the people walking by stopped while we prayed.

I love the country.

An Interesting Week

Last week, we were feeling a little bit of a financial pinch, and I really didn’t want to spend anything more than I absolutely had to. Well, we ran out of dish soap, and were on our way to being out of laundry soap. I didn’t want to use what little cash I had for that, in case we needed something really important, like feminine hygiene products or toilet paper. I draw the line at DIY’ing either of those!

I had, however, made laundry soap before with limited success, so I googled a recipe for that  and one for dish soap. I had everything I needed in one form or another, except for washing soda. I did have baking soda though, and I knew I had read somewhere that you could change one to the other, so I went back to Google.

Once I found what I needed, I decided to sneak in a chemistry lesson, so I told Kat to look up the difference between baking and washing soda, as well as how to change one to the other. Surprisingly, she did it without complaining.

Making washing soda is easy. You can learn how here. Basically, all you do is bake baking soda in the oven for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. There is a slight change in color and a definite change in texture.

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Fresh baked washing soda

Then we used the newly formed washing soda in the recipes we found for laundry and dish soap. The dish soap recipe that I used did not work out well for me, so I will keep experimenting in that department and let you know what I find out.

The laundry soap, on the other hand, turned out great, and seems to work pretty well. I have not used it on Ed’s uniforms yet, but it did fine with the rest of the laundry. You can find the recipe here.  You grate soap (I used Ivory), and then mix it with Borax and washing soda, and put in the food processor until its a fine powder. I used about 2 tablespoons per load. It’s a lot easier and a lot less mess than trying to make liquid laundry soap.

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grated soap

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Before processing

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After. Notice the layer of dust. We let that settle for awhile before we opened it. Don’t need to breath soap dust.

Over the weekend, the dogs decided they would start playing “find the hole under the fence” again, giving Ed fits for about three days. Since they haven’t got out since Tuesday, I think he solved the problem.  He is still working on new living arrangements for the chickens, but I’ll let him tell you about that.

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Hanging out in the house while Ed fixes the fence . Notice the cats on the table above. Bookworm is annoyed, but think Captain is asleep

During all that, I discovered what I thought might be a spider bite on my back between my shoulder blades. I couldn’t see it with out mirror and I certainly couldn’t reach it. I enlisted Ed and Kat’s help for a few days, but finally gave in an went to the doctor on Monday. It’s an abscess..We don’t know how, and we don’t know why. She gave me a shot in the rear, put me on antibiotics, and told me to come back Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Ed planned to check the bee hives. He hadn’t had a chance to take a good look at them in about ten days, so he was kind of anxious to  check on them. When he went out just to look, the saw this.

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A ball of bees under the pallet the hive sits on. The usually don’t do that.

Then he came back in and called our friends at Crooked Hill. Tammie told him he needed to see what was going on inside the hive, which is what he already planned to do. So he donned his bee suit,  started his smoker and went to visit the bees. As I usually do, I went too, staying on the far side of the fence. From there, I can usually get pretty good pictures and stay off the bee’s radar. I said usually.

Since the Sparta hive had the strange activity, he started there first. All I can say is wow! The hive is crammed full of bees, brood, and honey!

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One frame from Sparta hive

Even with the smoke, they seemed especially agitated, and when I realized I was starting to get some attention, I walked away. When I got back to the chicken pens, they left me. A few minutes later, Ed walked over to the fence and asked me to bring him the camera. Big mistake. Suddenly I had a lot of bee attention. As I started moving away again I felt the first sting on my face, and knew I might be in trouble.  There is a an old metal washtub sitting out there near the black berries, and it was half full of rain water. I had noticed it earlier and decided that might be my best chance of freeing myself from the bees. I hit the ground and dunked my head in the tub, using my hands to splash water up on myself. Once I was pretty sure, was free of them, I went to the house and told Kat to get the plantain oil we made last fall. I know I had at least five stings. One on my face, two on my head and two (maybe three) on my arm. Ed came in a few minutes later to check on me. He got stung three times through the bee suit, but he doesn’t have the reaction I do to things like that. The plantain oil did it’s job, but I took some allergy medicine just in case.

The stings on my face and head swelled a little, but were nearly gone in a few hours. The ones on my head hurt the worst, but I think that was because they were right underneath where my glasses rest. The area on my arm got red and hot. You should have seen my doctor’s face when I went back to see her about the abscess and she saw my arm. Poor woman. She offered to give me a shot for that too, but I told her I thought I was ok. The abscess is nearly  gone.

Today, I had my pre-op appointment for my foot surgery next week. It will be an outpatient procedure so I’ll get to come home the same day. Ed’s kind of stressing about how he’s going to get me out of the car and into the house, but I think it will be fine. We went ahead and rented the knee scooter, so I could practice with it. I think I’ll be ok.

I told you it was an interesting week.

Things have calmed down a little now, although Ed is making plans for harvesting some honey. I’m sure he’ll be posting all about that next week.

Connie

 

The Art of Messing Up

 

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This is one of the earliest pictures of the house we have. She is a nice place, warm and snug, with enough land to keep this old fella busy until the Lord calls me home.

 

Doing things right is often overrated. Don’t get me wrong. It is truly wondrous to see a person with a high level of skill, attack a task with a speed and accuracy that leaves us all breathless with awe. Still, you have to ask yourself how they got that way don’t you?

Do you think B. B. King came out of the womb playing The Thrill is Gone? Was Mohamed Ali floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee when he was in diapers? Did Michelangelo design helicopters, and paint masterpieces in preschool? I doubt that very seriously.

In all things, there is a learning process. No matter how gifted you might be, there is that period of time when you hit yourself in the thumb with the hammer, trip over the shoelaces of your dancing shoes, and drop your musical instrument on your foot. For an old reprobate retired soldier turned fry cook, the learning curve for a homesteader is pretty steep. Picture the wall of the Grand Canyon; that kind of steep.

We are coming up on the end of our second year on our homestead. I want to look at some things we did well, some things we did badly, some things we did not do at all, and some things we should never have done.

It bears repeating, doing things right IS highly overrated. I am one of those people who improves his skills by getting dirt under my fingernails. I can read a book, listen to an instructor, watch a video, then pass a test with flying colors. However, until I am turning information into action I have not really been trained.

Learning is the assembly of facts; training changes behavior. You can read every possible book on horsemanship, but your really not a rider until you are sitting on your butt looking up into the eyes of the horse that just made a fool of you. THAT is lesson number one.

So the first thing I will tell you, is that I regret spending way too much time being afraid of failure. That does not just apply to the homestead; that applies to my life in general. However, we will narrow it down to the homestead and these last couple years.

A lot more would have happened around here, were I not afraid of looking like a fool in general, and incompetent in particular. If I had taken most of the time I spent figuring out what I did not have or know that kept me from doing something, and just did it, I would have accomplished a lot more.

So, my free advice, worth every penny you paid for it, is do not fear doing things wrong. Anything worth doing is worth screwing up a couple times. Do not judge yourself against others and particularly against those you believe to be expert. You are going to start any project with the skills you have now. Done right, you will finish it with more, better, and broader skills. Even if you fail completely, you will still have learned how not to do it and what you need to know to do it.

So what are my regrets? Sit back and relax this might take awhile:

When we were shopping for a home, I went in prayer to God and ask Him to close doors if I were heading in the wrong direction. Doors just flew open to getting this place. For that reason I believe this is the place the Good Lord wants Connie and I. However, my first thought on this matter, is that we bit off more than we were, and still are, able to chew.

We considered, what we thought was carefully, and decided on between five and ten acres. Seemed reasonable to us at the time. We are two years in, and have not fully used two acres. That two acres includes about a quarter acre dog run, inside which the dogs sometimes even stay. So my takeaway?

Really give thought to how much land you need, but, if you must err, err on more than less. I can always let three acres go wild, and let somebody hay it just to knock the stuff down, but I cannot figure out how to make more ground.

Before you buy it, know your place. Had I known everything I know now, I would have still chosen this farm but:

I should have noticed that most of the center east-west cross fence was simply trash, and a lot of the boundary fencing is going to need replacement.

I should have learned that if the gates were not hanging on the fences (they were in the lean-to on the barn), they were not considered part of the property. That little mistake is going to cost me a bit.

I should have asked more questions about the septic system, but the two year old roof dazzled me with its brilliance.

I should have stopped, and talked to Connie about the interior decoration of the house (every man reading this just went to sleep). Let me leave this next statement gender neutral: The fact one of you could care less about the Disco Ball in the Den, does not mean the other one feels that way.

So there are some examples of the things I intend to talk about during the month of July. August 1st we will have slept in our home for two years. If I had it to do all over again, and with all I have learned since then, I think this is right where we need to be.

A Cranberry Merchant

Reading over Ed’s post from last week, I decided I wanted to add my own two cents to what he said, as well as catching you up for this week.

Yes, we have been crazy busy. When he started saying all the things we were busier than, I could just hear grandma say, “Busier than a cranberry merchant”.  After Ed’s post last week, I decided to try and find the source of that saying.  Google gave me the answer in the first result. Subsequent results said the same thing. When you add the words “in November”, the phrase makes perfect sense. November is the time of Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is the time for cranberry sauce. As a matter of fact, you might be hard pressed to find cranberries at other times of the year. So, yes, a cranberry merchant might be very busy in November.

Ed truly loves the bees. It’s fun for me to watch him watching them. I am, however, looking forward to getting my own bee suit, so I can get a good look myself. As it is now, I can get about ten to fifteen feet away, and watch, without drawing the attention of the irritated bees.

I don’t think Ed mentioned it, but Kat has named the hives Sparta and Athens. Sparta was named first, when I pointed out to her that the bees would cast out those members who weren’t able to pull their own weight…kind of like the ancient Spartans that we were covering in school. Of course, the other hive had to be Athens. Interestingly, the hives’ behavior seems to mirror their respective namesakes. Athens is definitely more laid back than Sparta.

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Athens on the left and Sparta on the right.

Jim’s death took us all by surprise. I couldn’t have been more proud of how Ed stepped up to help, not only for my children and I, but for Jim’s family as well. Jim’s brother went so far as to tell Ed that he is “family now”. Katherine was definitely daddy’s girl (the only girl in a total of six children, and the baby), and she had him wrapped around her little finger. She was actually concerned that she wasn’t crying like Bam Bam, and I reassured her that everyone grieves differently and it was ok. She’s brought him up a time or two since then, but that was it. I was kind of waiting for something to break, but wasn’t sure if it would.

Then the dogs killed those two chickens. She fell to the ground and just screamed. I told Jim’s sister later that I thought some of that might have been for her dad too. In any case, it was hard to watch. My heart just broke for her. Then a few days ago, Moony came up missing. After looking and calling for a couple hours without locating the runaway rooster, Katherine just sat and cried. She told me she was a terrible chicken keeper. I told her it was not her fault, and we just had to pray that he was alright. The next morning, Ed and I had both gone out to the coop at different times hoping he had come back, but he hadn’t. At least, not where we expected him.

Ed was out near the other pen, also known as Sunny’s bachelor pad, when he heard a rooster crow nearby. He was looking right at Sunny and it wasn’t him. He heard it again, and it was coming from inside the garage. He came to get me and we both went back to try and find the source. Ed was checking the rafters and I was checking the corners. There was Moony, sticking his head out of a bunch of boxes in the back corner! He may have been there the whole time.

That very day, Ed and Kat worked together to cover the top of the chicken pen, so no one can fly out again.
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Hanging out after the work was done.

The rain finally stopped, and the sun came out with a vengeance. For about two or three weeks, we had 90 and hundred degree days. That is not June weather for Missouri; July or August maybe, but not June. Now, the weather people are saying we need to be prepared for the possibility of 4-6 inches of rain this weekend. I guess we’ll see. We had a little shower this evening. The clouds looked ominous, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. It rained for about ten minutes and the sun came back out.

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Those clouds were rolling!

Like Ed said, we’ve both been dealing with health issues. That’s part of that whole “Old Folks” thing. I had an endoscopy yesterday. I do have some issues, but the doctor wasn’t overly concerned. I just need to watch what, how, and when I eat. He didn’t say so, but I know that losing some weight would solve a lot of the problem.

The foot surgery is another matter entirely. I have a bone spur, along with a “diseased” Achilles’ tendon. They are going saw off the bone spur and remove the diseased portion of the tendon. After the surgery, its “no weight bearing for three months”. The doctor told me it would be either a wheel chair or a knee scooter. I chose the knee scooter. I’ve been told twice now to get it early and practice. Yes, I have already apologized to Ed in advance, because I know it’s going to drive me crazy.

I started a bunch of tomato seeds back in April and just now got all of them in the ground. I think there are about 30 plants in all. I noticed blooms on a few plants today. I also planted sunflowers, okra, and a few other plants here and there. After I knew I was going to be out of commission for at least three months, I decided not to try and plant anything else this year.

We did get some nice lettuce in the cold frame, but the spinach never came up. The onions we planted last fall came up though, and we still have a couple in the ground.

In addition to the trees we planted in the back field, we also planted ten blackberry bushes. I think we have about eight left. A few of them are really coming along.

Ed went to his first regular shift at his new job tonight. He always did like working thirds. Kat is now calling him a bat, because he’s working nights.

Well that’s about it for now.

Connie

Busier Than…..

“Busier than a long tailed cat in a room fulla rockin’ chairs.” Now there is one that paints you a picture. Much like “Busier than a one armed wall paper hanger.” or “Busy as a one legged man at a butt kickin’ contest.” All good old fashioned ways to describe my last few months.

So the next question would be: “Busy doin’ what bud?”

Funny you should ask:

I believe the last time we talked, I was discussing getting some bees. On 30 April 2016 we became the proud owners of two hives of Russian Honey Bees, and no, they do not do that funny little dance.

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What you see here is me moving the two Nucs into their new homes.

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This is moving the bees with stuff into their new homes. It is a very interesting process. Bees have a remarkable sense of direction and place so I opened the little holes in the Nucs the night before and set them directly where the hive was going to be. That way I could work while the foragers were out and they would be able to come home to their new house. It worked fine.

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This pic was taken before I had any bees in them, but it is what, two months later, the hives look like now, with two deeps and one super.

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This was taken two days ago. Because of back trouble, I had not been in the hives for about two weeks. At least in this one, the bees have already about filled up the super with honey. What I am doing is breaking loose the glue (propolis).  Interestingly, it is the substance used to make the varnish used on Stradivarius violins. Oh, honey is heavy. I estimate this super to be about forty pounds and it is not full yet.

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It’s HONEY!!!

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This comb broke off one of the supers. I have one hive that is kind of a free spirit. The plus was that Connie and I got a taste of our own honey. It was great. Kat did not want any because it is neither chicken tenders nor pepperoni pizza.

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This is a smoker. Bees are a lot like Willie Nelson, give them a little smoke and they settle right down. The tool in my other hand is essentially a pry bar to break loose the propolis which is really good glue. The tool lying to the far left of the picture is used to pick frames out of the supers or the deeps. I will show you next pic.

 

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We got a lot going on here, first, all those bees flying around me are a mite displeased. Second, that is the tool I was talking about. I thought I could do without it, but it is very hard to pull frames out with your gloved hands. Finally the frame has honey around the edges (the white parts are capped honey) and brood in the center. Most of the center has already hatched so the queen will be back this way shortly. Down around the bottom and the edges you see some capped brood. Can you tell this stuff just amazes me?

 

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For the three of you I have not bored to tears here is another look at a deep frame, with both brood and honey. I met the Queen herself on one of these, she is about half again bigger than the other bees and looks, well, regal. I think she ordered me beheaded.

In my last post, I also discussed more chickens. We got those too, with limited success. We bought a total of ten Rhode Island Red pullets (at least that was how they were advertised) of which five made it to adulthood. Two were apparently cleverly disguised as pullets because they had grown up to be roosters. OOPS. If, at this point, you are thinking of an inappropriate joke well…. me too, but we digress.

For some reason, after reaching adulthood one rooster and one hen decided to go over the fence and visit the dogs. This was a fatally unwise decision on their part. No, I did not shoot the dogs, though I did make my disapproval known. I did not shoot them because first, the chickens had come to them, and second, I already had Miss Katherine in a complete funk over the dead rooster and hen, so having to say goodbye to the dogs would have made that matter worse.

But, as Claremary said in one of her comments, farm life can be harsh. We already have a little graveyard on the place. So now Aero and Sleepy are buried with Marshmellow, Loki and Ice Cold, the Beta.

So we move on with what we have, which includes our two original roosters who are grown, full of vinegar and kicking each others butts daily.

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Katherine named him Moony because he has dark tail feathers. I just call him Brewster the Rooster.

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This one is Sunny (white tail feathers) I call him Rooster Cogburn. Since they have reached adulthood we pretty much have to keep them apart.  If not, they will fight each other constantly.

Connie misplaced her camera; it showed up in a box of seeds. Things have a habit of doing that in our home. I misplaced my Barlow for a couple months and found it in my pencil/pen cup on my desk. So we do not have a lot of picture of the Rhode Island Reds. Also, we did lose six months of pictures when Connie’s computer went haywire. We will have more shortly.

On March 30,  Jim Williams (Connie’s ex-husband and the children’s father) passed away. Jim, like me, was retired military. Jim, like me also, was a drunk. By the grace of God, I have been sober for seven years.  Jim was not so blessed. Anyway, he had no one to take care of his arrangements, except a young son who, though grown, was not prepared for those issues. Neither were we, for that matter.

First, there was the funeral expense. Although he had left enough to handle it, the money was not going to be available. After some consideration I talked to Connie and we handled it temporarily. The man had been her husband for many years and, besides that, he was a veteran and we are too.

Next came the family: one son from Germany and several family members from Kentucky. We had the son from Jim’s first marriage, Jim’s brother from Kentucky, and two of his nieces. It was a bit crowded but everyone was wonderful guests, and we gave Jim a fair send off.

In May, we planted some trees Connie got from the Missouri Department of Conservation for a very reasonable price. We had thirty trees (that’s a lotta holes by the way) of which we  got about twenty in the ground. We now have a possibility of about fifteen making it. A little hint: bunnies LOVE witch hazel.

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Me digging another tree hole. Note to self: You need to lose some weight Hoss.

Then there was the job, which was not working out. So I have taken another one, which has a higher earning potential. It will be four ten hour days instead of five eights. So let’s add some job stress, and then a job change to the mix.

Then we had the rains. Missouri had been under drought conditions from around 2009 until last year. Well, that’s over. The Good Lord made a promise to Noah that He would not flood the whole earth again. He said nothing about flooding Missouri. That was left open for consideration.

During one of the worst of several bad rainstorms, I noticed that a drain in the basement was backing up. Thus began the reign of broken things. This drain was hooked to what turned out to be a gray water line, so every time we used the washer, sinks or showers, we had water back up. Actually it was better than I suspected. I was afraid that the septic was backing up.

Next came the truck. I got off from work one evening, and it appeared to me that the safety switch, that kept me from starting the truck without the clutch in, had shorted.

Then came the oven, followed by the air conditioner. Not to be outdone, Connie’s computer went belly up, and then mine committed hot computer suicide.

Wow! Do I need to tell you that I, a bumbling repair man at best, was a little overwhelmed? Finally I realized that it would likely be best if we did something about this mess. So we prayed a lot, and then:

I had already replaced Connie’s computer before mine went out so we restored her old one to factory settings and I took it. We also managed to get a lot of the saved stuff off of my computer and we had quite a bit of Connie’s already on an external hard drive. Computer situation solved.

We called a plumber from Chilicothe, Mo who did drains and septic tanks. If you are in the area and looking for a plumber, message me I will give you his number. I was ready to spend a grand on this without blinking. After ten minutes he had determined that it was a plugged gray water drain, that went into the ditch by the road. Apparently this is done a lot in Braymer. Within forty minutes, he and his partner had cleared the clog.  No mess, no trouble, and two hundred bucks well spent.

As for the truck; I have road service as part of my insurance. It was not the clutch safety switch, it was a loose battery cable which was shorting out. Total cost: one hundred and ten bucks. After I get my refund for the tow, ten bucks. I can live with that.

The AC looked scary. Connie and I cleaned up a 5000 BTU window unit we had from the old house, and put it in the kitchen. I called around, and what I heard scared me badly. At church, I shared all this in Sunday school class, and the Minister gave me the name of the man who worked on the church’s AC. I called on Monday, he came on Tuesday.  Total cost: ninety bucks.

So what I would have estimated as a total of about two thousand dollars, came out to more like five hundred dollars. I can live with that, although five hundred ain’t chump change either.

And that is the way the last five months have gone. “Busy as Cranberry Merchant.” Connie’s great-grandma used to say that one. Neither one of us know what it refers to.

Oh, and then we have the medical things. I have been scoped from every conceivable angle. Connie is going to get endoscopy next week, and next month she is going to have her foot and ankle operated on. Oh yes,and my gimp back blew out on me, but that is fine now.

Beside all that, everything had been fine.

Ed

 

 

 

 

 

To Bee or Not To Bee

Apiculture: Raising bees for the purpose of gathering honey and/or pollinating plants; put simply: beekeeping. I did not know what the big fancy five buck word for beekeeping was until I started to write this, but I knew that such a word would exist. It is the way we are. We need a big word, preferably in a dead language, before we feel like something we are doing is important.

Two weeks ago, we went over south of Chillicothe, Missouri, to Crooked Hill Beekeeping to talk to Bill about starting our bees in mid April to early May. I know that is two months away and yes, I already feel rushed.

First, what I actually know about beekeeping could be written on the back of a match book, with a dull carpenter’s pencil. I know essentially three things, none of which are very helpful at this time.

1. Grandpa raised bees in his apple trees. The honey was marvelous and the man, well if he raised bees the whole world should.
2. As a boy I was entranced and amazed by the bees, their rituals, patterns and practices, as well as the art of caring for them and harvesting honey. I recall spending time behind the bee hives, quietly, with my ear up against the back of the hives, listening to the constant hum as the bees worked and kept the hive cool.
3. Bees are not a luxury in our environment; they are a necessity. Probably much more of a necessity than you and I.

Let’s get down to some of the practical parts of what Connie and I have done in order to become bee-keepers. The first and best thing we did was make connections. We found out, quite by accident, that a new Beekeeping Club was forming in Braymer and we have attended two meetings so far.

It is an eclectic group, consisting of everything from professionals through homesteaders to Mennonites. By the way, those guys have the coolest hats. The first meeting we attended was in October, and was largely organizational. Because of the holidays, we did not do another meeting until the end of January, where we got a presentation on preparing the hives for spring.

The information is important of course, but the connections with other people who are doing what we propose to do, is equally important. Both give you a chance to pick people’s brains, learn what worked for them and what didn’t, and to hear the jargon of beekeeping.

The difference between a Super and a Deep are simple things, but are the beginning of a confusion that just grows as words with which you are perfectly familiar, come out of people’s mouths in orders and contexts that make absolutely no sense. The February presentation of our yet un-named beekeeping club is going to be about the jargon of beekeeping. I am looking forward it with great interest.

The next part, in my opinion, would be the same whether your interest is beekeeping or Alligator wrestling. If you are going to learn from somebody, learn from somebody who really knows; and if you are going to do business with somebody, do business with somebody you can trust.

The Good Lord, being certain I need all the help I can get, led me to Bill and his wife Tammy at Crooked Hill Beekeeping. Here, I will admit a bias. Both Bill and I are retired military, and Bill is also a Law Enforcement Officer, which I was for a number of years. So we start out with a lot of shared interest and attitudes. As we have mentioned, Connie is also a military veteran so, again, that established a level of trust going in. Also both Bill and his wife are sensitive to the fact we are starting a little downhill from the bottom so, while we are not idiots, it is best not to take any chances.

After talking to Bill for a couple hours, one hour on bees and one hour of old soldier war stories, Connie and I made arrangements to buy two hives of bees complete. This included:

Two Nucs of Russian Bees. You can buy bees in packages, which are just the bees, or Nucs which are an already established hive with five frames (what the bees make honey and put their eggs in). We decided to go with the Nucs to start with, so that we have a greater chance of an initial success.

Two full hives unassembled. I bought them unassembled not just because they were a tad cheaper, though they were. I bought them that way so I can see how they go together so that in the future I can possibly build my own if that seems more economical. A full hive consists of:

1. A bottom board with a reducer
2. Two deeps (the place where the bees live, breed and make their honey to be stored for winter)
3. 20 Deep frames and foundation (What the bees make comb and brood on)
4. A super (the smaller box you put on top where, hopefully, the bees will make your honey)
5. 10 Medium frames and foundation (For your supers where you will someday find your honey if all goes well).
6. An inner cover, which controls air flow
7. An outer telescoping cover, which is the top of your hive.

If you are like me you need a picture:

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A diagram of a bee hive found in the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Beyond all this we bought some other items necessary to assemble these products into bee hives and a copy of a book (books are good, I like them in paper with pages, I can write on and bend over) called First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith S. Delaplane. I picked the book up in his shop and Bill told me that this was the book he started with. That was a good enough endorsement for me.

After I have assembled my two hives and before the Nucs arrive, I will make another visit to buy a bee suit, smoker and other equipment along those lines. I am waiting, so I will be sure of what I need.

Now I have to assemble, paint, and set up two hives, before I have two already established bee colonies arriving for me to tend to. The cats have a hard enough time with dogs in the house; I doubt that they or Connie are going to be pleased if I try to raise bees in my den. No pressure.

As I do the work in my own bumbling way, I will get Connie to make pictures and we will post them for your edification and amusement.

God Bless,

Ed