Tuesday, April 30, 2013


There’s been a hive of activity around here. Literally.

Since taking the Homesteading Class in October we have known that we wanted bees to be part of our overall plan. We even bought two wooden hives and ordered two boxes of bees soon after the class from one of the teachers.

One day last month Guv’nor and Son took the basic beekeeping class from Ploughshare Institute at Homestead Heritage. Then they started collecting the equipment they would need: suit, hat, veil, gloves, smoker, pry bar, brush, spray bottle, jars, and sugar. Meanwhile, Daughter helped by painting the hives.

I tagged along last week when Guv’nor went to pick up the two boxes of bees. I didn’t realize we’d be bringing the bees back home inside the truck. Thankfully, none of the bees got out, but one did sneak a ride on the outside of the box.

The main purpose of having bees is for pollination of plants and trees, but a great benefit is the honey and beeswax they produce. For the first year, and until the bees are established in the hive, they are fed sugar water. We will have to wait a year to enjoy the honey. Patience.

I asked Guv’nor to give me some interesting facts about bees, and here’s what he had to say:

1. They can fly up to 10 miles from the hive and navigate using the ground contours and the shape of tree lines and the direction of the sun – even in cloudy weather.
2. They get so accustomed to the location of their hive that if it is moved by more than 18” they will get very angry and attack things in their path.
3. Queens are worker bee larvae that are fed exclusively on royal jelly, the food of queens. The workers are so attuned to their queen that they can sense when she is ill and close to death and they start raising up new queens immediately.
4. Bees do a dance to their fellows in the hive to pinpoint food sources. The orientation of their dance relative to the sun’s direction provides a bearing, and the intensity of their “wiggles” provides the distance.
5. Bees maximize the freight they can carry. They load up with food for calories only just sufficient to arrive at the food source. That way they minimize the amount they consume from the hive and maximize the amount they can bring back.
6. Bees have an amazing sense of smell. The smell of the queen reassures the hive of her presence. If the bees cannot smell her they get disoriented. When we put our new bees into their new home, the queen had to go first so all the others would know it was home.
7. Smoke is used by bee keepers to mask the smell of “alarm” emitted by frightened bees, and maintain a relaxed mood in the hive. Smoke does not put them to sleep, but rather they maintain their intense activity with an attitude of “all is well”.
8. It is estimated that a million visits to flowers are needed by bees to make a pound of honey.
9. Bees only fly when it warms to 57F and they do not fly in the rain. When it gets really cold they huddle very close together and generate warmth to sustain themselves.
10. The male bee, the drone, has only two purposes in life: to eat and to mate with a queen. 

These are called "top bar" hives. Daughter did a good job painting them white.

This hive is an original design by Jacob at Homestead Heritage. The lid lifts off to get to the bees.

Each "bar" has a plastic starter comb for the bees to attach their comb.

The original design has an entrance for the bees at each end.

Here's a photo of Guv'nor all suited up in his bee gear.

When we arrived there were about 30 boxes of bees in a barn waiting to be picked up.

We bought 2 boxes of "Carnilian" bees.

Jacob estimated that there were 3000 bees in each box!!

Sugar water makes the bees happy.

Guv'nor opened up the first bee box very carefully.

Guv'nor and Son are looking for the queen to remove first.

The bee came in a little plastic capsule that was attached inside the hive.

Once the queen was settled, the box of bees were shaken out into the hive.

They set up the second hive just like the first.

This is a happy hive of bees with their sugar water to drink.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

More Bluebonnets

I just had to post another picture of the bluebonnets. They are everywhere and still so pretty along the roadside. I think these pictures are a bit better than the first ones I took. These ones are just down the road from us.

As far as I know it's not illegal to pick the bluebonnets (like it is in California with the poppies), but they are a bit sacred to Texans. It's fine to pick a few to take home, but just don't take them all. It seems everyone loves to see the bluebonnets on the side of the road.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Triple Composter

We've already used some of the scrap wood from the old deck and built a triple composter. We were able to take advantage of all the tools readily available while building the deck. We used the Homestead Heritage model which used old pallets. There are three sections which, in theory, would be composting at various stages to provide compost ready to use at any time.

After giving Heath, our deck man, a few guidelines, he knew just what to do. He put Son to work screwing the boards together while he sawed them. It took them a couple of hours. It turned out nicer than expected.

The Homestead Heritage model used old pallets.

The composter was built in place. Each section is about 4 ft. wide, 3 ft. deep, 3 ft. high.

We used 3x3 posts and 1x5s.

The front was built to slide in boards.

The old deck boards were the perfect size.

The front boards can be added as needed.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Finally something is finished! The Guv'nor and I were remarking the other day that we have about a dozen jobs around the property that are half finished. As you start one job and run into a snag, you pick another job to do, thus never really finishing anything. It frustrates us.
I can now report that the back deck is completely finished. When the contractor gave us the choice back in February of having a big crew which would take a short time (days) versus the one man crew that would take a longer time (weeks), we chose the one man option.

It took our deck man Heath 25 days to tear down and rebuild the back deck. But along the way,  as he worked methodically every day, stopping often to contemplate his work and figure his next step, we came to appreciate his routine and realize he was building a work of art. 

We soon learned that the old deck had been built without sufficient foundation, which lead to the warped boards. In addition, the Priors hadn't looked after it very well, so many boards were rotten. As the deck was dismantled, Heath carefully removed all the nails and screws and stacked all the good and reusable boards. We plan to use the old boards for various projects around the property.

In a couple of months after the boards have dried out, we will stain and seal the deck.




Thursday, April 4, 2013

Egg Hunt

I have "children" that still like to hunt Easter eggs. So that they could all hunt, they set me with the task of hiding the eggs. They also thought it would be fun if it was more like a scavenger or treasure hunt with clues to work out where the eggs were hidden.

So with 80 acres to work with, I thought I could come up with the 50 clues they wanted. We wanted the clues to be a little challenging without being impossibly hard. We planned to use our two four-wheelers to get around, so we decided to have two teams. To complicate things, we also decided to have the two teams hunting in opposite directions so they wouldn't be going to the same places at the same times.

I rode around the property one day in the Mule to get ideas. I drew a map to remind me of the locations. Then I spent a couple of hours coming up with the clues. I'm so glad I decided to type them out on my computer, because it took me awhile to work out the logistics.

I'd bought 100 colored plastic eggs from Walmart for about $4. Daughter helped divide them into two color groupings for two teams that we called Yellow-Orange-Green and Blue-Pink-Purple. I printed out three sets of clues (one for each team and one for me) and cut the clues into little strips. Guv'nor drove the Mule around as I put the clues in each set of eggs as we hid them in the various locations. It took us a couple of hours and we ended up hiding the last few in the dark.

After our Sunday lunch of shepherd's pie, everyone changed out of their Sunday clothes and were ready for the hunt. The teams were previously decided. YOG: Daughter 2, Daughter 3, and Son. BPP: Daughter 1 and Fiance'. After a few clues the green four-wheeler died so Team YOG had to abandon it and use the Mule. Guv'nor and I watched from the porch. With my extra set of clues I could tell which clues they were on and if they had gone wrong. Each team phoned home a couple of times for extra hints.

Team BPP finished first in 1 hour, 10 minutes, but had a slight advantage since their four-wheeler hadn't broken down. We gave Team YOG an extra 10 minutes for their trouble with the four-wheeler and they came in just as the extra 10 minutes was up. So we called it a tie.

I think I'll have to make the clues harder next year.

The plastic eggs were very colorful.

Each clue was on a strip of paper stuffed into the egg.

Here's my little map.

Here's a sampling of my clues.

The two teams at the starting line.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Youth Expo

Our neighbor invited me to tag along with her the other day to the county Youth Expo. She had a friend from her church who was showing rabbits. It sounded fun, but I had no idea what a youth expo was. I should've asked more questions. I thought it might be like a science fair or a school assembly.

It turned out to be a bit like a county or state fair except without all the midway rides and the fried butter. It was held in a big barn on the outside of town. So it wasn't the day to wear the cute shoes I'd worn. Everyone else was wearing cowboy boots. I'll know next time.

The agriculture students in the county show their livestock and get judged and win prizes. Some even win scholarships. Most of them have been working on their project for months. Since we had gone to see the rabbits, we sat and watched while the judge inspected various breeds of rabbits and awarded ribbons for the best ones. As it turned out, the rabbits that we'd gone to see were the best in their category.

We had a look around at the other animals on show - cows, sheep, goats, pigs, llamas. There was also a section for creative arts and cooking. I think my favorite thing was the llamas.

The expo was in a barn with a dirt floor.

Luckily I didn't ruin my shoes.

The first place rabbit.

These pigs were kissing through the cages.

This cow was perfectly groomed.

The llamas were partially clipped.

Don't know why this one was clipped this way.

Creative use of horseshoes.

Prize winning leather notebook holder.