Posts Tagged ‘homesteading’

Bee Happy

Hard to believe, but it’s that time of year again when the beekeeper really starts rolling. We have an order arriving on Thursday which will contain two packages of bees and one extra queen, which will hopefully round out our small homestead apiary to four hives. Since I did such a poor job of updating you once my pregnancy hit me full force, here’s the rundown of our exciting bee-happenings from last year.

After we started making the honey, we realized we had a really good thing on our hands. We purchased a small hand crank honey extractor and harvested the surplus honey from our hive. All in all, we got almost 40 lbs. of surplus honey, plus plenty left over to feed the bees over the winter. Harvesting was sticky and fun, and through the generosity of our friends at Tangleweed Farm down the road we were able to sell some of our bounty. Here we are at the farm’s Open House selling our goods:

The sale of our honey was such a success that we had a whole email list full of customers. Our smaller, second harvest of the season was sold out before it even hit the shelves. This year, we’ve already had people asking about our honey, so we decided to make a go of expanding the business a bit.

In addition to the honey, I’ve started tinkering with beeswax products as well. So far I’ve made some basic lip balm and have just ordered some supplies to play with the recipe a bit. I also hope to try my hand at candles, soaps, and some healing salves–all using our girls’ honey or wax.

Of course, it’s tough to do this without mentors. There are no local beekeepers that we know of that can really show us how to do some more sophisticated maneuvers like rearing our own queens or collecting pollen to sell. So a lot of this is trial and error. But we’re reading everything we can get our hands on and luckily there is a large support system for small scale beekeepers on the internet. And we’re having a lot of fun.

Who would have ever thought, when we began dreaming of our own homestead, that I’d be a beekeeping gal who makes my own lip balm, collects eggs from the backyard coop each night, and gave birth in my own bedroom? Not me. But thank God for these blessings–I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A Simpler Life

When we started this journey a little over a year and a half ago–through reading, researching, learning, and dreaming–it was easy to romanticize the “simple life.” After all, I had seen the beauty of laundry hanging in the wind and drinking homemade root beer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I read blogs of chicken owners, talked to farmers at the farmers markets, and we even planted a few raised beds of our own. I began making my own cleaning products, cleaning up our eating, and trying to learn how to sew my own clothes.

Then we moved to the country and grabbed the “simple life” with both hands. We used less natural gas by doing things like hanging our laundry to dry. We planted a 140+ square foot garden. We began tending our orchard and grape vines and berry canes. We got chickens that will start laying eggs in the Fall.  Our living space got bigger and thus our ability to host friends and family joyfully increased. Ah, yes–the “simple life.”

But let me tell you–this simpler life of ours is certainly not easier.

Not that I’m complaining. But I’d like any readers out there who imagine this life as more recreational or less busy to understand that voluntary simplicity requires a lot of hard work. A lot. We rise with the sun and go to bed shortly after it sets, and are usually exhausted. Rob works hard at his job and then comes home and works hard on the land. I work hard to keep our house a home, to keep the behind-the-scenes show running, and then try to help in the evenings when and where I can.

And yes, there are things I miss. I definitely miss Rob and I having time in the kitchen together to cook. The demands of evening chores usually mean that dinner needs to be done by the time he gets home, so he doesn’t have the time to participate in one of his most fulfilling activities (which is also a great source of talent, I might add). The commute also is tiring for him, so I’m not sure if he would even want to cook when he gets home; but still, I miss the days when I used to play assistant chef. He makes such better meals than me!

I miss the rare night when we would dim the lights, make popcorn, and watch a movie on TV. Since moving here we haven’t set up the TV in the house, and don’t necessarily plan to (thank goodness). And we certainly have watched a movie or two on my laptop computer. But, I’ll admit, it’s just not the same.

I’m looking forward to the greater sense of relative calm that will hopefully come in the next few years, once our routine and garden and orchard and berry patches are established and require a little less oversight.  I pray daily that Rob’s job would be less stressful. I appreciate each sacrifice that both of us make on a daily basis to give us this beautiful, wonderful life.

This simpler life has it’s advantages and disadvantages, although I must say that it brings more fulfillment than I ever felt living in Los Angeles. It’s not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for the lazy. It’s for the hopeful, the dreamers, and the slightly looney. It’s for Rob and me, for the family we’ll someday have, and for Sugar, Midnight, Easter, eight chickens and a hive full of bees.

The simpler life is a harder life. But it’s a good one. Of that, I’m sure.

Exhale

My friends, I can finally exhale. The class is over, as is my commute down to Pasadena (at least, for now–but who knows what the future holds?).  Although I’m still not feeling great, I’ve been able to settle down into a functional combination of rest and work. Things have been changing inside the home, outside the home, and across the Tehachapi Valley in general.

The weather is finally consistently warm–almost hot–and the hillsides have changed from emerald to a dusty gold. The oak trees dot the hills with their dark green, reassuring presence. Things have turned dry, and it’s the time of year for hot, windy afternoons, snake sightings, and iced tea.

There are many things to do around the homestead these days, and there is never enough daylight or energy to do it all. Robert’s family is coming to stay with us in less than three weeks, and the house has a long way to go before they arrive. It’s been difficult to stay on top of housework with my class and feeling sick lately, so each day begins with a long list of catch-up household chores. And then there’s the outside! Wonderous things are happening, yet sometimes it feels like a bit of a treadmill. Stop running and something’s bound to fall off the track. Between bees, chickens, garden, and overall maintenance, we’re never lacking for something to do. I’ll admit to having an evening or two where I long for the cold, early darkness of winter and nights sitting under a blanket, practicing my fiddle. But everything has a season, and in the midst of a snowstorm I’ll inevitably long for a summer breeze.

Here are some visual updates from the homestead, since a picture tells more than I ever could describe.

The bees are doing great! We have four supers (boxes filled with foundation for comb, pollen, eggs and honey) already!

Our older grape vines (the ones already established, not the ones we just planted this spring), as with most of the things in our garden, are showing little signs of what is to come:

My husband looks quite natural as he rides our mower to get the most ferocious of the weeds in our yard (mustard weed really is viciously reproductive).  We tried tackling it with our push mower, but some things just need to be handled with a more powerful beast. Maybe someday we’ll trade it in for a tractor! 🙂

Finally, we decided to take a much-needed break from everything on the neverending to-do list and take a little day trip up to the southernmost end of the Sequoia National forest, about 3 hours away. The silence and grandeur of these ancient giants helped to put everything in perspective. It was as if they whispered to us about the smallness of our tiny daily emergencies. It was everything I needed, and more.

I hope to continue to update more regularly now that things have slowed down a bit. Thanks for your patience until now; exciting things are beginning to happen!

Chasin’ Chicks

My uncle has had a long history of picking up my younger brother (who has special needs that keep him at a cognitive level of around 7 or 8 years old) and taking him out for some “guy time.” Usually they will go somewhere and have lunch, visit the toy store, and maybe see a movie. But when they come home and we ask what they did to have fun, my uncle always replies with a grin: “Oh, we were just out chasin’ chicks.”

Well, Rob and I have decided to really chase chicks. As in, eight of them–five-week-old pullets that we got after a long time dreaming, reading, and researching and a short time actually making the decision.  Last Friday, I walked into our local Hay and Feed store to check out some other things they had. There they were–the last of the spring chicks that had been for sale in the store over the last month or so. There were only about thirty left. In the giant, peeping tub were two different breeds: the popular Rhode Island Red, a dependable layer of light brown eggs, and the barred (some might consider it “striped”) Cuckoo Maran, known for laying dark chocolate colored eggs. I asked the lady at the counter how long she thought they’d last. “Not through the weekend,” she sighed almost wistfully. “People have been snapping them up, and these are the last of them.”

I got on the phone to Rob. A list of verbal pros and cons were discussed. They weren’t day-old chicks, which meant they wouldn’t need the intensive care of very young chicks (temperature control, for one). And since they were five weeks old, they would be laying by September. It also meant we could have them outside in the coop by Memorial Day, when we would be gone for three days in New Jersey. It would be easier to let a neighbor take care of them. On the other hand, the coop wasn’t near ready to house hens. There was no door, no lid for the roosting box, no run, and the inside needed a good once-over. We’d have to put in a lot of work in a little time.  And besides, were we ready? This would make the homestead…well, much more of a “real” homestead. We’d have chickens, for goodness sake.

But in the end, the chicks won. I picked up four Rhode Island Reds and four Cuckoo Marans, bought a 30-gallon tub (which I quickly learned was too small), some wood shavings, and some feed. I brought them home and tenderly set everything up. I whispered a “welcome” to our newest ladies.

This weekend we undertook the job of getting the coop chicken-ready; that way, even if we didn’t have the run ready for a week or two, we could transition them to their new, bigger digs after this cold spell passes (a freak mid-May snowstorm, ugh).  So here’s what we started with:

We swept the inside free of inches of oak leaves and other crud, added a roosting bar, and put in a little ladder up to the roosting boxes. Then we pached the hole under the boxes with a plank of plywood, added a lid and lock to the roosting nests, and added dutch doors (since there is no ventilation built into the coop, we’ll open the top door for now, and hope to add an inner screen door as well). The wood is quite old, so we’re not sure how long this coop will last, but hopefully it will give us a few good years before we need to start from scratch. We’ll paint the whole thing in the next few days, but for now we just painted the exposed wood and added some weather stripping to the door. Here’s what we ended up with:

As for the chicks, they’re doing great. They’re quite entertaining, and I think they’ll have a wonderful life here. Our hope is to let them out into their run during the day, and when we’re home we’ll let them pasture our property in a little portable pen we’ve picked up. The goal here isn’t just about eggs (or possibly meat) for our family. The goal is a dual one: it’s to give back as much as we get. Even though we’ll be getting eggs, I want to give these chicks a shot at a wonderful life. I want to support the home-grown, local movement as much as possible–and this is the ultimate in that support. I want to give our friends and family a chance to really get what “from farm to fork” means.

Plus, it gives Sugar a new job: she’s the official chicken-guarder. So far, she’s doing pretty well.

Spring has Sprung

So much is happening around the homestead, and I feel privileged to watch Spring unfold. My favorite time is early Saturday morning, when Rob and I wake up early, make coffee, and go out to greet the land as the sun rises.  Spring has not been gentle so far; the weather can swing from a warm sunny day in the 70s to the threat of snow within just twelve hours. But we are approaching the time when the threat of frost has past, when all of our seedlings can go into the ground, and when we can embrace each moment of these longer days with the giddiness of children.

The flowers here are extraordinary. I’ve never seen wildflowers like this. There are also an abundance of different types of grasses and ground cover. The diversity gives hints to a picture larger than any human could have ever designed–but, of course, we knew that already! The dandelions are the most extraordinary to me. They lift their faces to the sun and follow it like a puppy might. Rob once said to me, “A weed is just something you don’t want growing there.” And, for the most part, we’ve made an unspoken pact that the only things that might be considered “weeds” on our homestead are things that grow in the food beds. Sure, our grass isn’t perfectly mowed. Sure, it doesn’t look perfect. But it’s beautiful to us, nonetheless.

Here are just a few glimpses of the various happenings around Tehachapi and our land:

The dandelions at a local ranch always tilt their faces to the sun

These purple wildflowers are so striking in person

 

Our new laundry line saves us money and makes our clothes smell great!

Our new potato patch--we'll have both white and purple potatoes!

There’s also some exciting farm updates and bee updates…I’ll post more on that soon. 🙂

Whirlwind

Like our land in spring, life is moving so fast that it’s sometimes hard to keep up.  The oak leaves are beginning to tint the branches with green. The lilacs are showing their potential, hinting at what is to come. Grass is growing at an incredible rate. We even had a tulip pop up out of nowhere!

The garden is coming to life. We painted the inside of the fence and, weather permitting, will finish the outside this weekend. We need to get that protective coat of paint on so we can secure some hardware cloth to the inside. We’ve seen plenty of rabbits hopping around, and I don’t want our seedlings to become anyone’s dinner anytime soon. We’ve also laid down a thick layer of road gravel along the pathways inside the fence to discourage grass, gophers, and other things that would like access to our garden boxes. Along the outside of the fence we’ve planted all sorts of bee-friendly flowers, laid down mulch, and installed a drip irrigation system. As far as the garden itself, all of the beds have the properly amended soil and drip irrigation lines put in. But we’ve only put kale seedlings into the groud so far (with straw as mulch so it will compost well when we’re done with it). We’re in the midst of hardening off our onions and leeks–which essentially means putting them outside during the day and in the greenhouse at night to get them used to the cold. But we have plenty other things to get into the ground in the next few weeks. The last potential day of frost (May 15) is approaching fast, and I can’t wait.

All in all, things are going really well. The bees are settling in–I’ll have an update on that soon. But the hive looks healthy and active.  The bees are calm and I love seeing them dive in and out of the hive every day. The fruit trees are blossoming, and our berry canes are looking great. I’m learning how much exercise a push mower can provide! There’s always something to do around the homestead, and often we end our weekends exhausted, sore, and satisfied.

As far as school–you can probably guess that it is keeping me pretty busy. But the class itself is amazing; it’s one of those classes that requires you to pick your jaw up off the floor on your way out. I’m blown away by some of the insights that I learn. The work is hard, but manageable. I’m glad that I only took one class this quarter. I feel like trying to balance school, housework, and working the land is a constant juggling act. But things are beginning to come together, and I can see it happening.

Back to my strong cup of coffee, cleaning rag, and homemade all-purpose cleaner. It’s supposed to rain today, so I’m off the hook for my yard duties!

New Schedule

It’s been a little tough getting used to our new schedule, but hopefully everything will begin to fall into place. Last week was my first week back at school, but with the added 2 1/2 hour commute each way (well, 2 1/2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon). I’m doing my best to juggle schoolwork and homestead responsibilities–so far, so good. I’m thankful that I love spending my time with both activities, which helps.

I’m only taking one class this quarter, which means I spend double the amount of time in the car to go to and from schodol than I actually do in class! But this class will be one of the best classes I’ve taken yet. It’s entitled “Exegetical Method and Practice” and is taught by one of the best in the field of New Testament, Dr. Joel Green. Basically, in this class take everything we learned in our year of studying Biblical (also called Koine) Greek and find out how to responsibly apply that knowledge when actually translating the Bible. This takes into account the cultural and historical aspects of Biblical texts, the dialogue of the contemporary culture with such a text, the ways in which to interpret a text based on a genre of a particular Biblical book, and so on. I’m proud to say that I just finished translating my first-ever entire book within the Bible: Paul’s letter to Philemon. Okay, okay, so it’s only 25 verses…still, I’m proud. And those 25 verses took over 5 hours to translate. It’s not as simple as translating from, say, French to English–there is deep nuance to the text, with the added challenge of the inability to talk to any of the original writers about their intent, their inferences, and their overall purpose. In any case, it will prove to be a very, very exciting class.

On the homestead, the weather up here keeps us on our toes. It was in the 70s last week, and this morning we had snow. The threat of frost until mid-May makes planning our garden very difficult. However, we do have a few things started indoors: eggplant, kale, lavendar, rosemary. Hopefully in the years to come we’ll get some UV lights to help us start our seedlings so we can time our planting perfectly. We also hope to finish off the greenhouse before next winter, which will also help extend our growing season. But for now, we work with what we have. My biggest concerns right now include having enough warm days to paint the garden fence so we can put in our last gopher barrier; getting the beehive ready for the arrival of our ladies on April 16th; getting a proper wind barrier for our beehive (and, in truth, our garden as well); figuring out our watering system; and finally, saving enough money to fence the property. I’d love to have chickens this summer, but if it’s not in the cards, then I’ll just have to be patient. We want to do this the right way.

On a final note, prayers for our little Sugar would be greatly appreciated. We’re going on over a month with a very strange gastro-intestinal problem that doesn’t seem to be abating. The vets are baffled, and I’m worried that it might progress to something worse if she doesn’t get some relief soon. 

That’s it from the cold, windy homestead for now.