One of Boone’s favorite ways to de-stress.
One of Boone’s favorite ways to de-stress.
2017 has been crazy busy. First my son and I both came down with the flu (son thinks it was the Norovirus). Whatever it was, it was vicious! Somehow, Boone did not catch it so he got the unfortunate task of taking care of us.
We have had much more rain than snow this year so have been battling yucky, mucky yard and pastures. Boone rescued a baby calf from the mud. Luckily, our greenhouse makes a great animal nursery so the calf lived there and out in our old dog pen during the day. Just as soon as he was strong enough we moved him to a small lot and shed over on the sheep farm.
It is a good thing we got him moved as lambing season kicked off early this year and has not stopped yet. One of the yearling ewes did not produce enough milk so we have bottle twins.
They are spending their nights in the greenhouse and their days lazing around in the sun in the dog pen. Such spoiled lambs! We have been letting them graze in the backyard and have already cut their bottles from four down to two per day. In a couple of weeks, they will get to go live with the flock over on the sheep farm.
The lambs love playing King of the Haystack….
We have several bee trees around us. One of them used to be in a wild cherry tree on the back of the farm down in the woods by the creek. It was blown down during a storm a couple of years ago. Boone wanted to save the bees that were in it so he cut out about an 8-foot log out of the tree and strapped it to an old stump to get it back up off the ground.
When we gather honey we never take all of it. The bees need to eat through the winter. One of our neighbors went with Boone to get the honey so he could learn how. Normally, Boone opens the tree while I work the smoker. When he and our friend got there, no bees were to be found. Not dead, not anywhere. We think they absconded for some reason. Boone did find signs of something digging up into the base of the log as there were pieces of comb laying on the ground so maybe that had something to do with the bees leaving?
He decided to gather the old honey combs and leave the new ones. Later on when checking the tree again he found bees back in it. Was this a new swarm that ran the old ones off or did they come from a neighbors box hive? We do not know but I am glad we left enough honey for them.
To extract the honey, we use the very scientific procedure of crushing the comb with a potato masher. Once crushed we drain the honey through a paint filter. I have tried cheesecloth but the filter works better. It works like a big jelly bag if you have ever made jelly. The filter doesn’t cost much, seems like it was a couple of dollars and it can be used over and over. I wash and rinse the new filter well before using for the first time and after using it I store in my water bath canner so no one tries to use it for straining paint!
There was a lot of comb so I needed to get the filter up above a stock pot. I stacked books on either side of the stockpot and ran a piece of pipe across to tie the filter bag off to after filling it with comb. The pipe was just what I came across first; a dowel rod, a piece of metal or anything that will not bend would have worked also.
After straining for most of the afternoon, I had to squeeze the rest of the honey out by hand using a pair of salad tongs. It worked really well. I had planned on trying to render the beeswax out but ran out of time with all of the holiday events we were attending and such. The spent comb was not wasted as it went to the pigs, which they loved!
After cleaning the filter, I strained the honey about 5 times. One last straining was with a jelly filter into mason jars. Normally, we only get a quart jar as we try to be conservative and leave the bees plenty. This time there was so much in the tree that Boone took a bit more and we ended up with 2 ½ quarts. The family has already requested Zippy Wings!
It has been a busy week with 2016 winding down. Kentucky is experiencing a mild dry winter. Taking advantage of the mild temps and a bit of rain that came through we moved the pigs to a new field. They had pretty much turned over the small field they had been in. We moved them to a combined woods/pasture/pond area that morning but the electric fence charger had less charge than we realized and they escaped. There is nothing like chasing 3 pigs around the hills to get your blood pumping.
They love chasing the Gator for some reason, so Boone hopped in it and took off across the field with them in hot pursuit. Me? I was bent over double with my hands on my knees gasping for air.
One of the neighbor’s has a small donkey herd. Generous people with huge hearts they had originally rescued a jack and jenny. Nature took its course and the herd grew beyond what they were prepared to handle. They decided to re-home the herd and found homes for all the adult donkeys so the last to go was a foal about 6 months old.
Everyone in our area knows if they have an animal that needs a new owner to call Boone. He and I both love animals and if we cannot take it on we often know people that can. When we received the call asking if we were interested in a foal donkey Boone brought home little Miss Rosebud. I have been around a few donkeys in my life that were foul-tempered and would come at you with teeth bared so I was not terribly excited about her. At the least, I thought she would be a good experiment to see how a donkey lived with the sheep. I had always heard donkeys were good with predator control as they naturally dislike canines and would help keep the coyotes away.
Turns out little Miss Rosebud has the sweetest, calmest personality. We have pulled burrs out her coat, wormed her and given her shots with minimal fuss on her part. She lets us pick up her feet and loves being scratched. She has a small field to herself and part of the run-in shed while the meds take effect. She has touched noses over the fences with some of the sheep and Bruno, the calf. Most of the day, she grazes on her side of the fence with the 3 little pigs rooting on the other side.
The sheep are now all bred so we will be moving Romeo, the ram, to his own field along with Bruno soon. At that time, we will put Miss Rosebud in with the sheep. I have great hopes they will form a tight bond.
The garden has been put to rest. It has been really good to us this year; potatoes, corn, peppers, melons, beans, herbs, berries and so many tomatoes that this summer I must have broken some kind of record for eating tomato sandwiches. I think I ate at least one every day.
I love the fall. Growing in southeastern North Carolina we did not have four distinct seasons. Kentucky is in a late fall warm spell but cooler temps are on the way. Makes me want to have crackling fires and hot chocolate with a good book! But for now it is time to get out in the woods and gather pears, walnuts and hickory nuts. Yesterday was another blue sky sunny day so Boone and I got out into the woods briefly to check on one of the trail cameras. It is placed near the Cherry bee tree. The bees were happily buzzing around but thankfully ignored us.
One of the trail cams on the sheep farm caught a big bobcat. I know sooner or later we may have problems with them or the coyotes so we are considering a livestock guardian dog or maybe a donkey.
Boone grew up in a traditional household. His father had a job in town and his mother stayed home raising the eight children while working the farm. His family lived in the hollers of Kentucky and milked cows, stripped tobacco, dug ginseng, gardened, hunted, fished and robbed bee trees periodically.
Since Boone is regularly out in the woods and pastures he is very good at spotting honey bees. We happened upon one of our bee trees purely by accident while out hiking. We were headed back to the house and smelled something really strong and oddly sweet. Backing up we started looking around and spotting a black walnut with bees buzzing around it. It was a bee tree and what we were smelling was the honey. It was that loaded with it.
We only take a small amount of honey from a tree. We need our bees to pollinate and they need enough honey to get through the winter. Boone, myself and our son went out to harvest some honey last year but due to so much rain ruining the pollen for the bees the honey was not as plentiful. We decided against harvesting any in fear that the bees would not have enough for themselves.
A couple of days ago, we had a beautiful frosty sunny morning and Boone pronounced that it was a good day to collect some honey. We gathered our tools in a bucket; knife, hammer, crow bar, caulk and caulking gun, smoker, handfuls of hay and matches. I donned a bee hat because while I have read that smoking the bees will make them retreat, I have never done it and only halfheartedly had faith in it until I had proof that it would work. This bee tree is a black walnut that is in a pasture near the house so off we go.
First, Boone uses the crowbar to pry the opening out. Years ago, he chainsawed a block out of the tree for an access hole to the honey. The bees have their own access hole on the other side of the tree. Once he gets it open, we will be able to get to the honey. The bees are buzzing away somewhere in the tree but we do not see any yet.
The block is out and wow, look at that honey! It is new honey with light colored combs bursting full. The smell is amazing. I have the smoker in hand and SON OF A BEE TREE, here comes the bees. They have been down in the bottom of the tree and a few hundred it looks like come up to see what we are doing. I start pumping the smoker and sure enough they simply withdraw back into the tree. Boone had a few minutes of hopping around as one of the bees did fly out and land on him somewhere. We found it, plucked it off and put it back in the tree. Boone cut out a bit of the comb and we could see plenty of dark honey behind it but we did not mess with it.
Combs are in the bucket and a few bees have come out to sit in the sun at the opening of their access hole in the sunshine but do not bother us.
We tap the block back in place, caulk all around it to keep the cold air out, gather up our tools and we are done. All in all, it took only about 20 minutes.
Back at the house, I crush the comb, set a mesh strainer inside a large pot, then line the strainer with a new paint filter, pour the honey comb in, put a lid on it and set it by our wood stove.
The heat from the stove will warm it up a bit so that it will strain easier. Using this method, I strain the honey until it is free and clear from any bits of comb, etc. This batch took 3 strainings. After straining I ended up with a bit over a quart of honey and it is heavenly. I cannot wait to make Zippy Wings, they are going to be amazing made with wild honey.
There is another bee tree that was part of a dead cherry that was brought down in a storm a few years ago. Fearing an animal would ravage the honey thus killing the bees, Boone trimmed the bee section out and propped it up to get the bees higher off of the ground. He has already cut the access hole so we will be checking it out next.
Boone’s Farm Report:
His name was Rambo and he had a killer instinct. Yes, he was quite the ladies’ man but quiet and deadly to all others…..
Ha, I am not speaking of the movie character but of Rambo our ram. He is gorgeous, protective and produces beautiful lambs but we cannot step foot in the pasture without being armed and willing to do battle. Knowing that I have a bullseye on my back makes spending time with the lambs much less enjoyable.
Every single ram that we have had, has turned from a sweet boy into an aggressive adult around the age of 2. The thing with rams is that they are quite silent, they just put their head down and charge you. Unless you are constantly watching them you may not hear them coming. Boone has been bounced off of the shed walls, knocked down and generally roughed up by various rams.
Miss Piggy has even had a couple of run-ins with Rambo. When he was about a year and half old, he hopped the electric fence into her enclosure with the intent of doing her bodily harm. Head down, he charged and she basically just caught his head in her mouth. Boone was working on the fence in her area and said it was the oddest thing he had seen so far on the farm….Miss Piggy standing there clamped onto Rambo’s head and Rambo too scared to move a muscle. Boone shook his tool bucket at her and she let Rambo go. Rambo wasted no time hopping back over the fence.
Last week, Miss Piggy’s fence went down during a storm so Boone had to retrieve her from the sheep field. Naturally, while they were walking back to her field, Rambo made a beeline for them. Miss Piggy met him halfway, knocked him down and proceeded to tromp all over him. Once again, shaking the tool bucket brought her back to Boone. Rambo scrambled away unharmed.
It was decided that it was time to bring some new blood into the flock which we do every couple of years anyway so Rambo had to go. He sold quickly and I hope he is happy on his new farm.
Now I can go sit on my overturned bucket in peace to watch the lambs play.
The hay is put up and the harvest is over. Everything from the garden has been frozen or canned. We have fresh pork in the freezer and Boone is hunting hard so we will have venison to add to it. Nuts have been gathered from the woods, the wood stack is high and I think we are ready for winter.
We are about halfway through the fall lambing season and I am enjoying the lambs tremendously. They love to jump, run and play. Such curious little creatures. This week is the start of a slower period on campus so I have taken the entire Thanksgiving week off. It is a nice way to ease into the holiday season.
I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving!