Bee hives wrapped for winter
Bee hives wrapped for winter

I know it is only the end of October but it is time to get the homestead ready for winter and all that means.  Here in the northwoods it means cold temperatures and snow, sometimes a lot of snow.  There will come a point when the daytime temperatures do not get above freezing for days on end.  At the heart of winter in January and February we can get below zero here at the homestead.

This week has been very busy with several projects getting done in preparation for winter.  As you can see from above one was getting the bee hives wrapped with tar paper.  I know it is not pretty but it serves the purpose.  On the left hive you can see the hardware cloth over the lower entrance.  This is to keep mice and voles out of the hive.  They would love to nest in the cozy warm hive with free food during the cold.  The tar paper keeps the wind from being able to get into the hive where the different super boxes meet.  Cold wind can kill a hive very quickly.  The black also helps to absorb what heat the sun will provide on cold days.  At the top you will see another small upper entrance.  When the snow gets deep the bees are still able to exit the hive to do a cleansing flight if we have an occasional warm day.

Bees only leave the hive when the outside temperatures get above 45 degrees or so.  That means that they are retaining all their excrement until such a day.  When there is a winter day that is warm enough they will all make a run to the outhouse.  The snow around the hive will be dotted with hundreds of brown spots where the bees have been able to relieve themselves.  To me as a beekeeper this is a welcome sign, it means that the hive is still alive and has made it through the winter, at least to that point.

Ken and I are really excited to attend the Maine State Beekeepers Association's annual conference in a couple of weeks.  It will be our first time attending and we hope to glean a lot of wisdom from much more experienced beekeepers.

We did the hives late in the week but the week started out with processing our broilers.  Again we had 25 Red Rangers on pasture from mid July.  I kept two of the hens and put them in with my layers.  One I call Buffy, she was an unusually light color so I wanted to keep her.  The other was just so she would have a familiar face when they were integrated into the laying flock.

The broilers that were processed earlier in the summer were all frozen whole so we decided that these would be cut up and frozen in pieces.  I packaged side breasts, leg quarters and wings.  It is a little more work but the packages sure take up much less room in the freezer than the whole birds.  I think we will like having the variety of chicken to choose from.

Part of why it was nice to have the chickens take up less freezer space is that this week was also when the pigs were delivered to the processor.  Although we process our own chickens we have not yet taken the step to do our own pigs.  Besides that we had FIVE this year.  That is a lot of pork.  Some were raised for other folks but we will still have plenty to fill the rest of the space in the freezers.

Getting livestock into the stock trailer does not always go as planned.  Thank the Lord that we were able to borrow a large stock trailer with two sections from a friend.  We knew that five pigs, all weighing over 250 pounds, were not going to fit into the two horse trailer that we own.  It is funny but each animal has their own personality and right from the beginning we had one that we called Lazy.  She would not go out into the yard when the rest did and she preferred to take more naps that the others.  Don't get me wrong, she ate just as much as the others but she was not as motivated by food at the other four.  There is the dilemma.  With a couple cans of food and a few apples the other four happily jumped up into the trailer to get their breakfast.  Not Lazy.  Fortunately the trailer had a middle divider that could be closed.  We closed the four into the front part of the trailer and started the long process of trying to convince Lazy that she also wanted to get into the trailer to get breakfast.

Long story short, and just to point out that animals cannot always be convinced to do what you want, we ended up having to dispatch Lazy, bleed her out, load her in the trailer with the tractor and take her to the processor that way.  This is not the way we would have chosen but sometimes you have to do what is necessary to take care of business on the homestead.

Homesteading is not for the faint of heart and sometimes you have to do things that you would rather not in a way you would rather not but that is the way life can be.  Do what needs to be done and move on to mucking out the turkey pen.


Liquid Gold
Liquid Gold

We finally decided to take a little bit of honey from the one year old hive.  So I extracted three frames and left the other five full frames for the bees.  The three frames yielded just under 10 pounds of honey.  Not too bad.  There are so many advantages to having your own raw honey to use.  One of the main reasons we got bees is because my husband suffers from seasonal allergies.  We have read that if you have just a little bit of local raw honey each day that it will help boost your immune system against those plants that you have an allergy to.  This works because the bees feed from the same plants and therefore a small amount of the pollen, which is usually the culprit, is introduced to your system and you can build antibodies against them.  I find this so amazing that God has provided what we need to take care of our issues.

There are a couple of key elements that are important.  First, the honey needs to be raw.  If it is heated it damages the pollen in the honey and it will not work the same in your body.  Second, the honey should be as local as possible to insure that it contains the pollen that are causing your allergic reactions.  I recommend that you visit a local farmers market or Google for a local honey producer because I know not everyone can or wants to keep their own bees.

We have made it through the first year of keeping bees with success and some downfalls.  The biggest being that our first hive was so successful that it swarmed sometime in, we think, the middle of July.  We were not home when it happened so totally missed the opportunity to capture the hive.  What we first noticed is that there was not all that much activity at the hive.  It wasn't even as busy as the new hive.  There were so many days of clouds, wind and rain that it took a couple of weeks until we could actually open the hive and see what was going on.  Well, there was honey, eight full frames but there was no young brood.  There was a few very mature, almost ready to hatch, brood but no young stuff and we could not find a queen.

I e-mailed my bee mentor with a bunch of questions.  He said that yes the hive had likely swarmed and that I could requeen.  I started calling places that might have queens for sale this late in the season.  The lady at Backwoods Bee Farm in Windham, ME was so helpful.  Since we have a second hive and they are raising brood very well she suggested that I could move one of the frames of brood into the other hive and see what happens.  First she said that it would give the bees in the other hive something to do raising the brood.  You see bees spend a lot of their time raising the next generation and if there is none to raise they get bored.  She also said that there was a possibility that they have already raised a replacement queen and that it had not taken it mating flight so had not started laying eggs yet.  If there was no new queen yet though the bees would build what is called supersedure or emergency queen cells and they would do it in three days.  We checked the frame after 3 days and there were no emergency queen cells so we are hopeful that the hive has replaced their queen themselves.  I am going to check the hive again at 6 days just to make sure there are no queen cells.  If they are just now trying to raise another queen it is too late in the season and we will indeed need to get a new queen.

The more I learn about our bees, and boy do I have a lot to learn, the more amazed I am by these creatures and their Creator.  Their societal structure is one of total cooperation, when faced with a portion that leave, for whatever reason though usually space, they will raise a new queen for those that are left.  As long as their is enough time in the season in our cold climate they will continue to raise the next generation and store honey to make it through the winter.

It has been a wonderful adventure down the path of beekeeping and we feel that not only are we getting a wonderful product for our family but we are doing our part to keep this valuable pollinator alive and reproducing for the benefit of all.



DSC_0032 (2)Well, apparently they are pretty much right on the money for the prediction of weather this winter in New England. We have had three major snow storms in 10 days for a total of around 30 inches here at the homestead. Many places closer to the Maine coast have gotten double that in the same 10 days. Not only have we had a lot of snow but it has been cold and windy. Our high temperatures have been in the teens during this time.  And, here we go again with another big one predicted to start this evening and go through Monday morning with another 1 to 2 FEET of snow.  The National Weather Service has already issued a blizzard warning.

The chickens seem to be doing okay with the cold. We give them some extra cracked corn to eat which helps them stay warmer. I’m more worried about the bees. Their hive has been battered by the cold winds. The good thing is that the snow has now covered half of the hive which will help to insulate it. When it gets a little warmer we will give the hive a little lift just to see how heavy it still is. This will help to determine how their winter stores of honey are holding out. The hive was packed full in the fall so hopefully there is enough food for them if they can survive the cold.

Our wood supply is doing well. It is so nice to be able to sit in front of a roaring fire while it howls outside. I like to put my soups and stews on a trivet on the stove when it just needs to simmer for a few hours to get all happy and flavorful. I also have a popcorn popper that can be used on the woodstove as well as the regular stove. It is nice to know that if needed I could cook on the woodstove.

Well, I need to top off the wood box and I think I'll fill the bathtub with water (to flush with) just in case.  Even though we have a generator we don't run it all the time if the power is out so having the water on hand is a help.  I also fill a few jugs for drinking and cooking and just leave them on the kitchen counter.  We have extra fuel for the generator so I think we are all set for what is to come.  The big task will be where to put it all once it stops snowing.

Happy Valentines Day everyone, hope that you are spending it with loved ones.