Monday, May 19, 2014

Research, research, research

I've wanted to get honey bees for many years now. We have so many plants and trees that could benefit from their pollination and I'd love to have some honey to add to my produce stand in the summers!

When I first started researching I found the top bar hives which seem like a great idea because it involves a lot less equipment than the traditional Langstroth hives do. There are no large supers to lift because you are harvesting single frames at a time. Large extractors are not needed since the crush and strain method is usually used. On the downside, they are smaller so you do need more of them to get the same production you would with Langstroths. Also, they can be heavier than langstroths because the entire hive is in one box instead of multiple boxes but if you have no plans to move your hive this is not a problem. Of course since langstroth hives are more commonly used, parts for them are easier to find unless you build your own. (not that building a hive is a problem, there are many plans available)

langstroth and top bar hives
(photo from:

Recently I discovered Warre hives which are a combination of the Langstroth and Top Bar. What I really love about these is that they seem to encourage the bees natural behavior more so than the other hives. No artificial foundation is used allowing the bees to make their own foundation just the size they need. New boxes are added to the bottom and boxes are harvested from the top making the comb always circulating and bees always building new and not reusing old comb. This improves the health of the colony. Also, the adding off bottom boxes allows the bees to build the hive from top to bottom which is the way they would build a hive in the wild.

A quilt box on top (which is not found on other hives) not only adds insulation but allows moisture to escape out of the hive. Like the top bar hives, not much equipment is needed and the low maintenance of these hives means opening only once or twice a year to add boxes and harvest honey!

The floors generally have a mesh bottom to allow mites that fall off the bees upon entering the hive to fall out through the bottom. This floor would need to be changed to a solid floor for the winter or built with a drawer underneath the mesh to allow the mites or other debris to be cleaned out.

Warre bee hive
(photo from:

The only downfall I see with the Warre hive is when adding boxes you need to lift the entire hive to place the new box underneath. With multiple boxes this could be over 100 pounds! Many people have built hive lifts to deal with this problem. A lot of those plans can be seen here:  I think having a lift should go on a list of essential equipment if owning this type of hive, along with a smoker, hive tool, and whatever garments one chooses to wear.

Just like top bar hive, you'd need to make most of the components yourself since they are not as common as langstroth hive. Building does seem to be very simple, some people even use scraps from around their work shops to make their hives: 

Detailed plans to build a warre hive can be found here:

My dream with have to wait until next year. Most apiaries only ship packaged bees in April and they sell out quickly. I have a whole year to continue my research and get some hives built (or ordered). Early next spring I plan on taking an introductory bee keeping class so I'll be ready to go come bee season!

Monday, March 24, 2014

This week on the farm 3/24

Wow, it's been two weeks since I posted an update! Even with the cold weather we've been busy getting ready for spring to arrive. Temperatures have stayed unseasonably cold. The snow is slowly melting during the day making a whole lot of ice when it freezes overnight. We've got to be careful walking to the barn, often I just drive the mule over so I don't slip and fall, especially with full buckets of water! Throughout the day on Saturday we saw groups of geese headed north which is a nice sign. I haven't seen any of my daffodils poking up yet.
The stores are filled with summer stuff! Grills, lawn mowers, vegetable seeds, patio furniture, even shorts and bathing suits! Everyone is itching to get out of the house after the winter we've had. (and appear to still be having)

Last week we had a new goat born! Skinny had twins but one did not survive. It was stillborn due to birth defects. I was grateful that she had an uncomplicated birth considering. The kid that did make it is a very cute little boy!
He's two weeks old now and doing just fine. We'll be choosing between him and the boy that was born after Thanksgiving for our next breeder. 
I took 4 goats to our local livestock auction. We only need the goats for one more year before Rose is old enough to breed and milk so it's time to reduce the size of the herd. We'll keep our three milking does and a buck for breeding next year.

I have to be careful to get the chicken house closed up by dark. The predators are waking up and I've lost two chickens and one guinea so far. I think the culprit might be a possum but I can't figure out how it's getting into the fence that surrounds the coop. I might have hubby set up some traps to catch it.

The garden seeds are getting started. We had hope to have the kale in the hoop house by now but it's just been too cold.
Kale and tomato plants are getting big. The green onions I grew from roots from store bought onions, they grow fast. Pepper seeds are just starting to sprout. We're buying the materials for the second hoop house and should be able to get started on that once the ground is thawed. 

Hubby is working on yet another solar project, a solar water heater. More on that another time.

Have a good week!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Our solar powered well pump

We've had issues with our well pump lately. The valve was malfunctioning and air was getting into the lines, becoming a real pain as it spit at us at the faucets. We knew replacement of the pump was needed and started looking at converting the system to solar to reduce our electric bill. My husband wrote up a very good description of the set up that I wanted to share with you! 

We had a conventional well with 220 pump and pressure tank. I have replaced it with A 100 watt solar panel, Battery, barrels for cistern, A 12V "deep" well pump as well as a 12 volt demand pressure pump. This should provide 300 gallons a day at the lowest light level months.

A brief description of how it works.
Sun powers panel with approx. 3 hours of sun at the worst time of year. This is 300 watts of power or approx. 25 Amp hrs a day.

The low flow deep well pump fills the barrel cisterns at a rate of 2 gallons a min. using about 2 amps an hour. I figure this to run for 3 hours a day for a total of 6 amp hrs.

The house hold demand pump I purchased is a monster... It pumps at 6 gallons a min @40 psi and 5 @ 60. It will use approx 15 amps an hour and run about 1 hour a day for a total of 15 amps.

The battery is from wally world, point of fact is they get great reviews and they are pretty cheap. It's their battery number "95" it's a deep cycle with 122 amp hours. Cost was less than 100 bucks. This battery should easily give 3 days of reserve capacity. Likely better because of the intermittent nature of the power usage.

A quick break down of the costs.

Deep pump, 600
Household pump, 250
100 watt Solar panel kit, 180 (it came with everything to hook up the panel to a battery)
100 feet 12 awg Wire 15 bucks
Cistern float switch 20 bucks
fittings, food grade barrels, tubing, about 100 bucks.
total: $1165


We actually use about 100 gallons a day... The national "average" for a family of 4 is 6000 a month or 200 a day. I figured I'd design it for 50% more. Well I have a "protection" factor of 3. So it should work well.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A new baby on the farm!

Wednesday March 5, 2014
Our doe Skinny (I swear that name made sense when she was younger) was pretty far in her pregnancy. Her udder was pretty large at this point so I put her on the stanchion to give her a shave and so I can clean up her stall a bit. I had a feeling it would be any day.

Thursday March 6, 2014
At this point Skinny was being very quiet. Not quite as excited about getting her feed and not climbing up on her stall to greet me. Most people wouldn't notice anything, but knowing her personality I knew something was up.

Friday March 7, 2014
During morning feeding she was not very interested in food. She still had grain left in her dish from feeding the night before and was picking at it slowly. I went in with her to give her a belly rub which she seemed to enjoy.
gingerly picking at grain
At about 1:30 in the afternoon I went to check on her. She was "talking" to her belly and was getting up and laying down a lot. I tried to go in with her to give her another rub. This time she gave a quick push with her horns. I took the hint and left her alone. At that point I put up the heat lamp, pretty sure that babies were on the way! She seemed to enjoy the warmth too!

Just two hour later, when my kids got home from school, we went to the barn for another check. She was already done have the babies! Unfortunately one was stillborn and had some obvious deformities. (It's the first deformed birth we've seen in the 8 years we've been raising goats) The surviving baby looks like a very healthy little boy! He was still wet but up on his feet so he had probably been born within half an hour of us finding them!

I think we were lucky that her birth went so smoothly. I can only imagine the difficulties that could have occurred with the stillborn one.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The construction of our hand pump well

Our house is a 175 year old farm house, one of the oldest in the area. About a year after we moved here we discovered the farms original well in the front yard covered over by a large stone and a thin layer of soil and grass. It was a perfect opportunity to install a hand pump to the well that could be used for an emergency water supply during power outages and also to water the livestock in the wintertime instead of bringing buckets into the house to fill at the sink.

My husband designed and build the entire pump using common pvc parts that could be found at any hardware store. 

diagram of the pump construction above the surface

above surface pump handle (right) and one way valves (left)

 It works best on a shallow well, the one we have is just over 20 feet deep. At the surface, a 3/4" pvc pipe runs inside of a 1 1/2" pipe that is also encased in a more sturdy 3" pipe for structure. A toilet flange bolts the pump to the deck.
diagram of the bottom of the pusher
This leads down to the pusher at the bottom of the pump.

diagram of the pump construction below the water 

one way valves that sit below the water

The pusher ends at two one way valves below the water's level. The water is pushed through these valves to a second pipe that leads back to the surface. (the diagram is slightly different than the final design but it explains the construction well)

Right now I am jealous of the low level of the snow in these pictures. :P

The well has been in place for three years now and has worked better than I think we imagined it would. Since all moving parts are 20 feet below ground it never freezes and I have water throughout the winter months. The only flaw is nature itself. During the driest parts of the summer the well will go dry and rarely in winter when we have gone a long time without any melt down. But, for the most part, no more wet or muddy boots going into the house to get water!

This week on the farm 2/25

I am late with this weeks update. The weekend was very busy running errands on Saturday and on Sunday making a large batch of Italian sausage!!
It's a very simple recipe, to 10 lbs of ground pork we add: 4 Tbsp salt, 2 Tbsp ground pepper, 2 Tbsp fennel, 1 Tbsp paprika, and 1 Tbsp garlic powder. We use natural casing to stuff the sausage.

Also on Sunday we started some seeds!! A tray full of tomatoes, peppers, boc choy and lettuce!
By the time they are ready to go outside the hoop house should be warm enough for planting and we should be working on building the second, even larger, hoop house!

The weather continues to be pain! We had a slight melt down over the weekend that left us with a very hard pack of snow and a driveway half covered in ice. Though it was nice to feel above freezing temperatures for the first time in over a month! It's the last week in February, it can only get better from here!

Have a good week!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

This week on the farm 2/15

Our BIG, BIG news this week is Rose!! She's a 4 month old Jersey heifer calf, and she is beautiful! 
My Dad joined me on the two hour drive south to pick her up in my minivan. (a lot of people think I'm nuts for doing that!) I took the front bench out of the van and put down a tarp and a thick layer of hay. There was plenty of room for her and I was able to sit on the back bench holding her halter while Dad drove. For a few minutes she tried to stand buy quickly decided that laying down was a better idea. The whole trip went pretty smoothly! When we got her home she was a little nervous about the strange stall I was putting her into but we kept her company most of the afternoon until she relaxed.
I absolutely LOVE Jerseys! They have the sweetest faces! This being our first calf it's amazing to see the difference between her and the goats. She is so calm and gentle! Everybody is looking forward to nicer weather so we can take her for walks! Right now we're just getting her use to us, teaching her to stand still for brushing, and walking with the halter.

MORE SNOW!! Schools were closed on Thursday and Friday because of a storm that came in Thursday morning. We added another 10" of snow to the foot that was on the ground. I was using my snow shoes to get to the animals Friday morning and dig everyone out before I could even feed them. 
there use to be legs on that hay feeder!
Saturday the edge of another storm brushed us giving an additional 3 inches. Some flurries are coming tonight and maybe a couple inches Monday night. The weather guys are promising ABOVE FREEZING temperatures staring Wednesday! I can't wait.

Have you seen it?! Signs of spring are coming to the stores. My last trip to Agway they had a stack of boxed grills out by the loading dock! Also, Dad and I spotted a flock of geese headed north when we were picking up Rose! I know it's early, but I'm excited!

Have a good week!