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!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

This week on the farm 2/9

Early in the week we had a snow storm bring us our largest snow total this winter! By the time it was done 10 inches had fallen adding to the 4 inches we already had on the ground! There was wind with it so the snow drifted a lot too. The deep snow makes it really tough to carry water buckets to the animals. I guess I should be grateful that the snow had been relatively shallow up until this point. I am itching for spring! After the snow yet another cold spell was bringing us down into the single digits at night. I put the heat lamps back on for the chickens and ducks.

We received our seed order from Johnny's for the hoop house and garden! (strange after just talking about snow, I know)  My goal is to have produce ready to sell at our stand for 4th of July weekend. There are a lot of summer homes in our area and that weekend brings in a lot of people. We'll be starting seedling in our new garden window in the next couple of weeks (I'll post about that soon) and then we'll be able to move them into the hoop house as soon as it stays warm enough for the plants, maybe some time in April.

Being stuck inside did give me an opportunity to do some sewing! I enjoy the instant gratification of smaller projects that I can complete in under an hour. (I'm lazy like that) Pinterest has given me a whole list of things to try and I made some bowl covers, a hand bag, a pocket belt, and an apron out of an old shirt. My daughter has been learning to use a sewing machine, both at home and in Home Ec at school. I was proud that she already knew most of what the teacher was showing them and was even helping her classmates learn! At home she made me a pin cushion that straps onto my machine!

On Thursday I thought one of the goats were going into labor. (it was really cold out so of course that's when she would be kidding) I'm thinking it was false labor because she was showing all the early signs: not acting like herself, refusing to eat, pawing at the ground, laying down a lot. But, within two days she was back to herself and eating like normal. Her udder is starting to bag up so I don't think she has much longer to go. It would be nice if it warmed up a little first.

I received some soap making supplies that I ordered from Brambleberry! I'd like to have some soap made and ready to sell at our stand this summer. It's also nice for gifts for family. Hubby is going to make me some new soap mold and then I'll be ready to go! I have a Chocolate Espresso fragrance oil that I can't wait to try!

Have a good week!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Repurposing an old sweater

I am not a fan of cowl neck sweaters, so when I received this one as a gift it just sat in my closet unworn. (although it is a pretty sweater)
I've seen a lot of patterns on Pinterest for ways to turn these sweaters into other items: mittens, cardigans, skirts, purses, and I figured this one would be perfect for just that.
I decided to make a pair of leg warmers, a hat, and a cowl.

I cut the sweater for the pieces I needed and immediately zig-zag stitched the edges to stop it from fraying 

I then turned those edges under, to hide the zig-zag, and hand hemmed the edge with yarn. For the hat I singe crocheted around the edge and then cinched it closed.

leg warmers, cowl, and hat

leg warmer from the sleeve of the sweater.

cap made from the cowl neck of the sweater
All complete and I think they came out pretty good! 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Herbal Healing Salve

I make a batch of healing salve every year or two. We've found it works well for cuts, scrapes, insect bites and burns. In fact, on a burn it seems to relieve the pain rather quickly. I keep a large jar in my medicine cabinet and a couple of small jars go into my purse and first aid kits. For containers I got these small jars from Mountain Rose Herbs (I've also seen them on Amazon):

Plastic jars from Mountain Rose Herbs. 2-4 oz sizes are good for salve.

To make the herb infused oil you want to take olive oil and either cover your chosen herbs with oil in a jar and let them sit for 3-6 weeks, shaking the jar each day OR steep them in warm oil for a few hours and then strain the herbs out. If you don't want to go through the trouble of making the infused oil you could use plain olive oil and add essential oils for the herbs you want to use. 

You might be able to wild harvest some of your herbs. I am able to find St. John's Wort and Plantain on our property and I'm still searching for more medicinal herbs that I can harvest!

my recipe:

1 cup herbal infused oil (any mixture of St. John's Wort, Plantain, Calendula, and/ or Comfrey)
1 - 2 oz. Beeswax (depending on how thick you want it to be)
2 1/2 tsp or 10 capsules Vitamin E Oil 
½ tsp. each Tea Tree and Lavender essential oils

Simply melt your bees wax in a double boiler, add the oil, vitamin E (to preserve your salve) and last your chosen essential oils.
Pour the salve into containers and allow it to cool.

my last (very well used) batch of salve. it's going to be
time for a fresh one soon!

This could be made without the vitamin E and will last 6-9 months stored at room temperature. I would really recommend using it if you can, it makes the salve last much longer.
They make nice gifts too!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Meet the goat herd!

I finally got a chance to get photos of all the goats so I could show you the group! Of course none of them wanted to sit still so excuse the blurry pictures.

This is Big Momma. She's and 8 year old nubian/ red boar cross. She one of the first goats we bought when she was only 6 weeks old. I rode home with her on my lap! With her is her boy who was the first kid born this year just after Thanksgiving. We'll keep him for our back-up buck.

This is Peanut. (if you saw her when she was born you would understand the name) A nubian/ alpine/ lamancha cross, daughter of Skinny, granddaughter of Big Momma. She's about 4 years old now, last year was her first year milking and after getting her trained to the stanchion she did quite well.

This is Skinny, a nubian/ alpine cross, daughter of Big Momma, mother of Peanut. She's about 6 now. Her name was more fitting in previous years but she has really filled out this past year and is probably in the best shape she's ever been. She's the most friendly goat we have and loves being pet. When we're out in the pasture with the goats she's know to sneak up behind you and nudge your arm so you can pet her.

This is Red, daughter of Big Momma, she's just two this winter. I'm still working on getting her use to being touched, she always runs from me. I find that if I keep her in the barn she much more relaxed with me coming near her.

These two cuties are Missy and Dottie. They were born to Peanut just after Thanksgiving. Dottie is the one I had to keep in the kitchen and bottle feed because mom rejected her. Her feet were also bent and I had to splint her legs for over a week until her ankle strengthened. 

The white goat is our buck. So far he's been one of the nicest bucks we've had and doesn't give me too much trouble. However he is fond of ignoring his shock collar and walking through the boundary. That might become and problem and he may have to go to auction when the little boy is old enough to replace him.

The girl behind him is a three year old, alpine/ nubian free loading doe. :P No babies from her yet but hubby thinks he feels babies so maybe this year will finally be her first.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The PA Farm Show

Thursday we attended the PA Farm Show in Harrisburg. It's the largest indoor farm show in the country and, according to the web site, has "nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibits"! We hadn't gone in a few years but I always watch the week long coverage on PCN. It's so nice to have something like this to break up the winter, I really look forward to it each year!

Each year, in the main hall, they have a giant butter sculpture. It's made with nearly 1000 pounds of butter!  This years sculpture featured people drinking milk shakes and a couple of dancing cows! It's kept in a refrigerated glass case to keep the butter cold.

Also in the main hall is tons of exhibits from bee keepers, wood carvers, maple producers (we saw a really nice sap boiler), wool weavers, painters, pottery makers, the list goes on and on. I got to talk to a lady from the PA Gourd Society and found out that my gourds that I thought I ruined because they froze in the garage are actually fine and should dry perfectly! In fact she told me that often the gourds are left in the garden and harvested the following spring! I didn't know that!

You can also see displays from all the contests from fruit and vegetable growers, hand sewn cloths, pies and cakes, canned goods, bread, honey, photography, maple syrup, etc! For many of them, locals enter their county fair and the winners are then eligible to enter here at the state level.

Of course the kids love seeing the animals, I think that's their favorite part, that and the carousel. The cows are fun to see. I've thought many times about getting a Jersey instead of the goats we have. Mainly because my daughter does not like goats milk and refuses to drink it,  I would have more cream for butter, and my mozzarella cheese would come out better. I just don't know if I could handle to amount of milk I would get from her. But I do love the sweet faces that those Jerseys have!

Over in the poultry room I got to check out the polish chickens. I look for them any time we go to any agricultural fair, I absolutely love those poofy heads! One day I will have day.

Over at the ducks I saw this little breed called bantam call ducks. They are the cutest things I've ever seen! It's seems they're only bred for pets and showing so I can't really justify getting any, but man were they cute!

Unfortunately most of the pigs had already left, but we did get to see a sow and her piglets!

Hubby has talked about raising geese for years now. The grey toulouse geese in the back really caught his eye and I think we may be starting a flock in the spring time. We have a shed near the garden that can be their house and the pasture would provide most of their food in spring and summer.

An incubator in the poultry room lets the kids see chicks hatching. They even have them spaced out so that some are hatching each day throughout the week!

There's another room full of commercial exhibits. Tractors, fence supply companies, trailers, solar products, green houses, all kinds of farming equipment is on display.

There are three arenas in the complex that have various events going on throughout the week. Horse pulls, barrel racing, rodeo, sheep herding, animal judging, tractor square dance, people square dance, tractor pulls, all kinds of events! 
On Wednesday there's the Sheep-to-shawl contest. Groups have three hours to sheer a sheep, spin it into yarn and then weave it on a loom into a shawl. They are judged on all three aspects of the event and afterward winners are announced and the shawls are auctioned off.

There's a lot to see in the 24 acres that the building covers! Everything is inside! But it's worth the 3 hour drive each way for us to see it! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why you should roast a turkey when a winter storm is coming...

So your weather report is calling for a big winter storm. You've got your shovels ready at the front door, you've pick up the bread and milk, got fuel for the generator, filled some jugs for drinking water, filled your oil lamps, what else can you do to prepare?

Roast a turkey!!

Sounds strange I know, but I promise it does make sense. The day before the storm you take your frozen turkey out of the freezer and float it in your bath tub to thaw and be ready to cook the next day. In the morning, before the storm really gets going, get that bird into the oven!

Why are we doing this you ask? :
1. The hours that your oven is on will provide needed extra heat to the house during a cold storm. There's nothing like a cozy house while the flakes are flying outside.

2. If power goes out later you don't have to worry about how to cook for your family. You'll have plenty of left over turkey for sandwiches to tide everyone over.

3. One less thing to worry about. After spending hours outside shoveling snow and scraping cars the last thing you want to worry about is running inside to start cooking dinner. Put together a quick salad and you have your meal!

3. That bath tub full of water can be used for flushing if power goes out! 

See, I told you it made sense! So next time you're making your list of storm preps, DON'T FORGET THE TURKEY!