Winter Findings

Great news! We have 9 new pullets that should start laying this month! They are replacing the 5 chickens that were eaten by our friends’ dog. Poor girl, I’m sure she thought she was doing us a favor by getting rid of the chicken problem that we had behind our fence. How helpful she was… So we’ve started fresh again, with one hen, Lilly, who has remained from the beginning. She’s still laying strong and has survived a fox attack and a dog attack-she has quite a track record.

The bees didn’t make it through the winter. When I opened it up to peak, fearing they were dead, I found a couple handfuls of bees, looking as they should, but dead. The queen was perched on the honey comb along with them, fragile and dead. Many of the honeybees had died with their heads in the honey comb, dying as they tried to eat. So, this spring we’ll be adding a new package of bees to our farm. The beehive still has quite a bit of honey in it, so the new bees will be off to a good start! After talking to a couple people, I think the problem lays in the fact that they simply started to death, despite the abundance of food in the hive. After we moved to this new place, we underestimated just how strong the winds get here, the top of the hive blew off and took the gallon jar of sugar water crashing down through the frames and around the hive. This inevitably attracted yellow jackets right away to the area. Unfortunately, this whole disaster took place in early fall and in order for a beehive to survive, the queen must lay a number of eggs to produce larva between August and October that are metabolically different than other honey bees. These bees will live until Spring, where as honeybees born in the spring and summer live for about 30 days. So, here in lies my problem. When the yellow jackets came in the fall, already to a weakened hive because I killed some with my sugar water, they were able to walk in and out of the hive and eat the larvae. The larvae that were suppose to live through until spring. So, without enough honeybees, there was not enough warmth in the hive to melt the honey for the bees to eat.

So, now it’s time to say goodbye to the bees and buckle down the hive to preserve it for the newcomers and to ward off any other creatures that might be trying to rob the hive of its honey.

We are continuing to research goats, plan for our first farm party and are try to finish up remodeling the inside of the house so that we can tackle the outside. Sheds, barns, gardens, a new chicken coop and much terracing (and hopefully soon, a hot tub!)  are in the works. We have a busy spring ahead of us.

The Farm… in pictures.

You can see the chicken coop… and if you look close enough, you can see the bees under the tree.

Sitting on my porch, drinking wine, watching the sunset.

The Farm… becoming reality.

Here is a little recap since my long, silent absence. Our garden, as usual boomed into a tropical rain forest, we had friends move in and began to plan out a commune (or for those of you who are scared by that word since the drinking of kool-aid and the following of a comet, a collective), and the honey bees were doing amazingly well.

The Honey Bees:

Over the summer, we were given advice to keep feeding the bees sugar water until they filled the bottom two hive bodies. So, that’s what we did. Early summer, they filled the two hive bodies, we stopped feeding them and began to wait eagerly for the honey that was going to flow out of the honey supers in the fall. Unfortunately, Denver was in a drought throughout the summer and as soon as we took away their sugar syrup, they began to eat all the honey. Bummer. So, no honey this fall, and as we move into the winter, we continue to hope that the honey they have is ample enough to get them through the winter. And I’m asking different experts how to feed them throughout the winter-it seems however, everyone has a different opinion.

The Farm:

We have embarked on an ambitious journey. We bought a house with another couple on an acre of land. The land is beautiful. From our house we can see the city and we have an amazing view of the mountains. Our property is backed up to Open Space, with equestrian trails all around. Amazing.

We are now remodeling the house, making it suitable for two couples to live comfortably in, fencing the property for Sage, so he doesn’t continually run through cactuses to try and “play” with the bunnies all around, and plan for the farm (animals, greenhouses, gardens, fruit trees, gatherings… the list literally goes forever). Our chickens get to run around, the bees have a new tree to live under, we planted an orchard of peach trees, cherry trees and apple trees. The goats continue to be a dream… as I do more research, they seem more overwhelming to care for. The biggest drawback to these dairy goats? Milking a goat 1-2 times a day, every day when I want to travel and play on a fairly regular basis. So I’ll continue to dream of goats until I can find a neighbor kid who is not only good at milking goats, but has a passion for milking goats for his neighbors. :)

Squirrels… those $@*#&@$!!!

The squirrels here are relentless. To be more specific, they are the anti-christ with bushy tails.

The hole in my kitchen screen, the trail of compost scraps across the counter, and the peach lying in my front yard (that used to be sitting in my kitchen) bear witness to the incredible lengths they go through simply to drive me to madness. Out of 12 strawberry plants I planted last year, they ate 10 of them. They plucked them out, ate the tops and threw the rest off to the side. My neighbor, in adoration of these creatures, proclaimed that she couldn’t believe they would ever do such things. I know. I saw the devils pluck the strawberry plants, I saw them strip each kernel of corn off all of the corn cobs that were growing, I have seen them perch on the bird feeder and chew a hole through the top, I saw them steal tomatoes off my plants (just to take one bite from the tomato, drop it on the ground and start over again with the next) and I have seen the aftermath of them eating the entire back off our compost pile just to get to the hot, rotting pile of slop… and I now have a hole in my kitchen screen window proving they are capable of not only invading my garden, but my house as well.

My husband has been vying for the day I would allow him to buy a pellet gun to rid us of their cute, smiling, havoc-wreaking little faces. But despite my despise of these creatures, my pacifistic nature lives on. So there must be a solution, right? Any good environmentalist would say there are other solutions. So now I’m calling for all those good environmentalists to speak up. Share with me your answers, teach me your squirrel-loving, vegetable-protecting ways. Or perhaps, no one has ever met the likes of these squirrels and the great multitudes that have been squatting in my neighborhood.

Should I set up rows of squirrel feeders on the side of my house to direct them away from the garden? Or would this simply call all the other squirrels to my yard and allow them to start their own little squirrel rave in my garden? Tell me your ideas and maybe this year I can stop grinding my teeth at night while I sleep.

Bees are on the horizon.

I’ve made the first steps.

I joined the Denver Beekeeping Association, I went to my first meeting, have read several books on beekeeping and have found the guy I want to buy my beekeeping supplies from.

Next steps: purchase my bee hive and my bees.

To begin beekeeping, at least if you’re not hunting for bargains, one will find it to be rather expensive. It all starts adding up: a couple hundred dollars for a beginning beekeeping class, a few hundred more for a beehive, a little less than a hundred for my fashionable beekeeping attire and over a hundred for a colony of bees-not to mention the gadgets and accessories for taking care of my bees and the hive. Thanks to luck, or fate, or the universe, or God, or whatever name you want to give to whatever intervenes in our lives for the better, I have found a beekeeper that is excited to share his knowledge, able to give people good deals on equipment, and happy to talk your ear off as long as one will sit and listen. My picturesque beekeeping life is almost complete (minus the actual bees and the hive).

So, despite Bill Turnbull’s book, Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper, I believe this is my year! This is the year I become friends with honeybees. I’m attending a free beekeeping class this Monday, put on by the excited, knowledge-sharing beekeeper himself (that I mentioned above) over at dakotabees.com. And this week, as long as the snow that’s falling today in Denver doesn’t kick up a few notches, I will be buying my hive. Thanks to everyone who has been reading this blog and sharing support in this adventure! And as for blogging, I will continue to update and continue to apologize about being inconsistent with my posts, until one day, when I become competent in the practice of habitual blogging.

As soon as I have more space to play…

Fainting goats. Fainting goats?!?!?

When my urban farm grows larger and I have more space to play, I will have a fainting goat. Unfortunately, I believe it will all play out as follows: Sage will see the goat in the distance and start to chase it, the goat won’t notice Sage until Sage is upon him, the goat will freeze up, fall down and become paralyzed with fright and Sage will begin gnawing on its leg. Poor goat. Seriously, how did they make it through centuries of natural selection? But more seriously, these goats are a necessity for my future, larger urban farm.

The question of bees.

I am tempted again this spring to set out on a new adventure and start a backyard bee hive. Now, when I went to the bee keeping shop last year, they made it sound fascinating, easy and foolproof. So, I was determined to do it. This winter, as I planned where I was to put the beehive, I began reading and absorbing books by the dozens from the library.

I was stoked. Bees. Honey. Buzzing.

I picked up a book the other day called, Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper by Bill Turnbull. I figured, I might as well learn from his mistakes instead of my own. Well, at this point, 100 pages in, perhaps beginning to read the book was a mistake I should not have made. I am sure that this book will have a redeeming end, willing me to continue on my adventure to keep bees in my backyard. However, right now, he makes this undertaking seem like a large mountain to climb. Is this really an all-consuming project? Will it be more agony than it is worth? So far, his adventures sound like a hell inhabited with bees.

I’ll keep reading, hoping and expecting the end to lure me back into my once all-consuming desire. Perhaps I’ll go back to that little bee shop that I once visited, surrounded by Subarus and the hum of excited urbanites wanting to start keeping bees of their own. Perhaps I will have these bees in the spring. But, at this point, my determination seems, at best, wavering.

Life. Life. Life. And hand soap!

Well, here’s a cheers to the new year…

I made some liquid hand soap! Now, whenever I tell people I made liquid hand soap out of a bar of soap. Usually they crinkle their eyebrows, cock their heads and ask, “why would you make soap out of soap?” Well, now… the answer is because it is going to save me a fist full of money and I can still feel good about where my soap came from.

Right now, I pay about $7 for a bottle of certified fair-trade, USDA organic, all-plant based liquid hand soap. By making my own soap, I am getting all the same qualities at about $4 a gallon. Yeah.

The completed product.

So why did I make soap out of soap? To save some cash and so my hands could smell like eucalyptus with a clear conscience.

All you have to do is…

1. Grate a bar of soap (of your conscientious laden choosing).

2. Add the soap shavings to a pot with one gallon of water.

3. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable glycerine to the water and soap shavings.

It will look just like soapy water.

4. Melt all the soap shavings.

5. Take it off the stove and uncover.

6. Add essential oil until (optional).

7. Let it cool for about 10 hours (when it is done, it will have the consistency of snot).

After it has cooled, you may transfer it to a container to store until you want to use it. I would highly recommend using a funnel. Unfortunately, being that I have never seen the utility in owning a funnel, I used a gallon ziplock bag with the corner cut off. Somehow in the process of pouring the liquid soap into the bag, the side of the bag folded over and a huge glop of eucalyptus smelling soap slid down between my kitchen cabinets and the oven. Now I have a eucalyptus smelling oven crack. I also see the importance of owning a funnel.

Chickens… the unmeat.

In anticipation of Terry Hope Romero’s new vegan cookbook… I have been testing out some recipes. It makes me appreciate once again the fact that my chickens are not my meat. Pictured below is one of Terry’s amazing new recipes!

Chicken-less, egg-less pad thai

To get ready for the winter, Nate has built two hoop houses over our raised beds in the front and we’ve let the chickens eat the rest of my garden in the back. The chickens are happy and I feel a tad like Martha Stewart, minus the jail time. Despite the fact that I am feeling very much like Ms. Stewart, during the the first snow storm of the season (we are now on our second today!!) I killed the basil, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes that I was hoping to extend through the fall season. Lesson learned. Even with Christmas lights in the hoop houses to provide warmth, it was not enough to keep them from freezing. A few minor adjustments to the hoop house and the appropriate plants should make all the difference.

My new hoop houses glowing in the snowy night.

I have planted some more cool weather veggies. Too late? Maybe. I guess we will see.

The kitchen floor is sticky…

The smell of grains and hops floats through my overly-heated humid house today. Thanks to Living Social, we just brewed our first batch of beer, a red ale, after buying a home brewing kit from a local brew shop in Aurora. Sweet. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. I am waiting with baited breath for the day we can pluck our own hops straight from the vines crawling over our pergola and toss it into the brew. Now, the sweet smelling brown muck sits in our spare bedroom’s closet as to hopefully achieve the precise temperature for fermentation.

Hopefully between the “Basic Brewing” DVD, written instructions, and our supremely honed skill for drinking amazing beer, it will all come together in a complex, crisp chilled glass of decadence on these sizzling hot summer days.

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