Catching a Swarm

First off, I’d like to say thank you for your patience.  It has been a difficult year for us, but now that spring is here, it is becoming easier to to build hope and joy into our lives after a dark winter.  Again, thanks!  And on to the swarm…

A great moment of beekeeping is when a swarm is discovered within reach.  I can spend hours watching the “dance” of the bees as they indicate the directions of the future home of the colony.  (Although we certainly do not want the bees to follow their directions.)

So far this year, we have caught three swarms of similar size to this one.  (approximately 5000 – 6000 bees in each)  All three colonies, I’m happy to say, are safely building comb in their new hive boxes.

The pictures below were taken at dusk.  I apologize that they are a little blurry, but the subject matter was so compelling that I still had to share them here.

When swarming, bees stay in a tight ball that encircles their queen.  The colony masses more tightly deeper inside the swarm.  They actually ‘stick’ to each other in the center of the swarm mass.  When a swarm wraps a trunk of a tree, I have removed the swarm in sections and gently place them into the hive.  They are very docile at this time, and I have yet to be stung in the process.

In this case, the bees wrapped a branch that needed to be pruned.  So Nicolae clipped away the smaller twigs, removed the top of the branch, and then removed the branch section containing the bees.

He placed the bees, branch and all, into the box.  Overnight the bees moved off the branch and populated the frames where they will build the foundation or comb.

Our boxes are the standard Langstroth hive design.  We use two large boxes for brood and the honey used by the colony.  Above that we place a queen separator or excluder.

The separator is a wire rack that has narrow channels that bees can move between.  Since the queen is a larger bee, she is unable to move into the higher boxes we use for harvesting honey.

These top honey boxes are shorter in height, but can weigh over 50 pounds when full of honey. Durning harvest time, we take the frames out, uncap the comb with a hot knife, and spin the comb-laden frames in a centrifugal machine called a honey extractor.

With three extra hives, I’m looking forward to a very sweet fall!

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Time & Distance of Farming

I’ll apologize in advance for the tone of this entry.  Recent events have made me view things a bit differently about the time and distance of the farm.  Additionally I have not written lately, so I wanted to touch base over recent events.

On December 20th I had received a call that my mother had been rushed to emergency.  I jumped into our car at 4am to make the 5-1/2 hour drive to Northern California.  By the time I had driven two hours, I found out that my mother had died.  I had missed the opportunity to say goodbye to the woman I loved most in the world.

The one thing we don’t realize, as we plan on living a rural lifestyle is that not only are we leaving behind the bustling cities, but we leave behind loved ones who choose to live in those cities.

After the whirl of funeral arrangements, memorial, and the family activity of writing my mother’s obituary, my return to the remoteness of the farm was both a comfort and a curse.  It was Christmas Eve, the house was dark and cold without a single gift under the tree.  Our family made it through primarily by voicing our gratitude for each other over an intimate and lovingly prepared dinner.

There are choices we make in life.  If choosing to life a rural and sustainable lifestyle is yours then keep in mind the distance and time of farming.

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Checklist for Choosing Your Homestead – Part 2

You’ll find that on the best of checklists there are just things that are missed.  Some are obvious, while others are just surprises – both good and bad.

Things we failed to consider that we wish we had:

1.  Financing

Owner finance is a great way to go.  We were lucky, but didn’t plan it.

2.  Heating the home

We failed to consider that our old farmhouse was not insulated well.  Heating with a wood burning stove is only as good as the heat the house holds.  Needless to say, we burn a lot of wood.  (I can’t wait until we re-insulate the home.)

3.  Outbuildings and their proximity to the house/living area

The old coop is gone. (forefront)

We had these cool looking outbuildings.  One was a low, long goat barn, and the other was a set up chicken coop.  They were both not in use as they were intended … but they were put to great use by thousands of rats. (Okay, I’m exaggerating, but … yuck!)

The remains of the goat barn

Some outbuildings will not benefit your property.  And if they are harboring bad beasties near your home, they may need to be removed.  Others, like below, need to be removed before they fall down.  (And yes, the hysterical and nagging voice is mine.  Sorry.)

4.  State regulations

5.  County regulations

6.  And … if truth be told … Federal regulations

If you have particular plans for a business on your homestead, make sure to check the regulations in your area.  Some of our biggest disappointments about living here is the long arm of the government interfering in our dreams of doing a small farm business.  No more said.

7.  Flood plains, droughts and snakes

We have been very fortunate, but we know of two stories that bear telling.

 A neighbor purchased a house near the river.  The river takes her property every winter.  She sued the previous owner for non-disclosure.  The previous owner filed bankruptcy and left her without recourse.  Now they are stuck living in a floodplain.  If the house is a steal, it may not be a good deal.

I heard an account of a home build on a snake pit.  They were not poisonous, but they got into the drinking water supply making the place unlivable.

Overall, if you’re buying a rural home – the best thing to do is to rent it for a season.  We rented ours for about eight months before the purchase went through.  I’m glad we did.

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Checklist for Choosing Your Homestead – Part 1

As the rural dreams loom closer to actuality, there are practical measures that must be considered.   From a personal standpoint, the reality of living a rural existence is a far cry from my dreams.  I had a “Gone with the Wind” view of Scarlet O’Hara wiping her brow and saying:

“I’ll never go hungry again!”

Yes, there would be hardship, but I would look beautiful through it.  And when the labor was over I could start my own lumber mill.

Preparation is the most important part of the decision-making process.

Disclaimer:  Now if anyone has read just how we ended up here, you’ll know it wasn’t exactly as planned.  But the truth is that we had our checklist as a constant companion for years.  And although I dug through my old papers to find it, I already had the list written without mistake or oversight.

Here’s our checklist on order of importance:

1. Source for Drinking Water

Nicolae grew up in an area that the only good drinking water source was a quarter mile away.  He worried that the local drinking water may be unsafe.  *Be sure have the well tested*

2.  Water Rights

Land is only as good as what it can grow.  Without solid water rights, your land may not be valuable as a producing farmstead.   Irrigation is required to produce your own fruits, vegetables, and to water the animals.

3. Equal parts Forest and Pasture

Having your own lumber source on the property was important to Nicolae.  I like having the mountainside to climb and ride my horses.  I didn’t take this item too seriously until we discovered that a wood stove was the only thing that heated our home.

4.  Soil Quality

This focuses on quality and type of soil, but also addresses erosion and/or abuse of the land.  History has shown us that we can overwork the land.   Our farm had been overworked in the back 40 where it was used to support too many animals, and the land was compacted.  With time and care, the land quality has vastly increased.

Continue reading

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Planning to Purchase a Homestead?

Homestead buying?  Here’s an example how not to do it.

A reader named Bruce recently asked me how we ended up at the farm.  It’s a story that has elements of warning that I probably should share.  So, here it is.  Thanks, Bruce!

Early in our marriage, my husband Nicolae and I enjoyed conversations that included:

“Someday on the farm…”

So, the idea of living on a farm has been with us for close to 25 years.  But I contribute the actual move to rural Oregon as my comeuppance for an overestimation of my strategic skills and a major underestimation of the meaning of those earlier conversations.

We had returned from Singapore and moved into a 7-acre property in Ashland.  It was a beautiful place that overlooked Emigrant Lake.  We enjoyed fixing it up, putting in a barn, planting trees, etc.  I believed that this was the farm we had always talked about.

Two years passed and I was antsy; I wanted to take a nice romantic weekend before the weather turned cold.   Week after week Nicolae said that he was too busy to schedule time away.  I grew impatient as I felt my hope for a summer weekend slipping away.

It was time to apply additional measures:

I remembered having stumbled across a rural property on the Internet years earlier, but the remote location and the scope of the 150-acre property kept me silent.  This property had everything on our checklist, but the scale was way beyond a hobby farm.  I searched for it online and found it was still available.

Okay, I admit it; I used the real estate listing to lure Nicolae to take a romantic weekend.  *Stupid, right? *  I was alarmed that he agreed so readily, but I greedily longed for some R&R, so I plugged my ears to the warning bells.

I called a Eugene real estate agent, Heather Romito (Whom I highly recommend, btw), and we scheduled the business side of our weekend.  At the time, I had felt a little sorry for Heather since I knew we would not be buying property.  * Oh, the humor! *

We arrived at her office at and went straight to the most remote property.  The moment we arrived, Nicolae jumped out of the car and walked up the driveway.  (I didn’t know it at the time, but Pete, the owner, watched Nicolae expression as he approached.  He said that he knew “right then and there” the house was sold.)

I did everything I could to avoid touring the antiquated home, but Pete was a sly old horse-trader and quite persuasive.

“Aren’t you going to look inside?” He asked, standing on shaking legs.

Pete placed a hand on my arm and directed me toward the door.  My resolve melted with his smile.  I stepped across the threshold into the 80-year-old house.  The house was in a bad state of repair with exposed 2x4s and electrical wire.   I was exhausted thinking of all the work ahead of whoever got suckered into buying the place.

As I entered the brown and hunter green kitchen, my knees gave way.  I had to grab the sink to keep from falling.

“Oh no! We’re going to live here.”

I still don’t know if I spoke this thought out loud, but from that moment, I knew our fate.  Later the sensation was confirmed when I actually heard the echo of children’s laughter as narrow doors squeaked open to reveal an upper floor.

Needless to say, I did not get the romantic weekend.  We returned home, collected the kids, and returned to the farm the very next day.  The girls swam at the river while I negotiated the sale with Pete.  (He was a better horse-trader than am I.)

It was a shoot-from-the-hip type of deal.  So, Bruce, if you are reading this, I wouldn’t recommend our method.

That fateful day was over six years ago, and my predictions were correct:  The people who got suckered into buying the farm are exhausted.

The irony: Six years later, I have yet to go on that romantic weekend.

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Summer Farm Update

I would rather write about a specific project on the farm, but we have been so busy that I’ll have to catch up on processes later.  I hope this overview will suffice until we catch our breath.

This summer has been helpful for some vegetables and fruits such as raspberries, corn and peppers; but not for tomatoes, eggplant, apples, and plums. Normally by this time, six-gallon pots of tomatoes would be processed daily into sauce. Now we’re eating tomatoes and drying batches, but we have yet to start on our sauce-making.

Garlic Drying for Storage

Garlic and onions are drying for storage, and our melons look fat and happy, but not ready to eat. We may lose our grape crop from a late start, but we enjoyed our first fresh ears of corn yesterday. *very good!* Overall, Oregon weather has been a mixed bag this year.

Surrogate Mother Duck

As life continues, so do the farm chores. We are up seven piglets, and about twenty-seven ducklings. We were hoping for the piglets, and were gobsmacked by the ducklings … they just kept on coming. Our latest group was hatched from a mother duck who decided she didn’t want to be a mom. Alex took over as protector until they get a little stronger. Even a ten-year-old wants a break sometime, so she created a surrogate from a toy chicken. The ducklings took to it right away and snuggled under it to fall asleep.


The piglets are a happy lot, but they have torn apart the area very quickly.  Nicolae will move them to a nice grassy spot as soon as the wheat has been harvested.  We make sure to provide them with a lot of shade and a wallow.

Our wheat harvest is underway. Walt’s wheat is certified organic and bio-dynamic.  I really look forward to grinding some myself this week.  I hope to post more of the wheat harvesting process later next month.

Combining Wheat

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Fresh Raspberries

Living in Oregon, we are blessed with an assortment of growing berries. So along with all the fruit trees and gardens, we’ve planted strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Our strawberries are well into their harvest, and we’ve enjoyed making lots of jam. We’ve enjoyed strawberries for a few years now, but this will be our first year to harvest gooseberries, raspberries and blueberries.

Our raspberries have finally ripened and now we boast some fresh jars of raspberry jam. (A little on the thin side, but no one here is complaining.) Raspberries prefer full sunlight and grow best in well-drained, sandy loam soils rich in organic matter. I’ve learned that the leaves can be used fresh or dried in herbal and medicinal teas.

We are finding more raspberries ripening over time. This last batch that we’ve picked will go into the freezer. I’ve placed them on a tray, keeping the berries separate. After they freeze solid, I’ll place them into a zipper bag to enjoy mid-winter.

I’ve found a wonderful video that talks about the Raspberry growing season for the University of Maine. I’ve embedded it here for you to enjoy. To learn more from this resource, click the following: University of Maine

Raspberry Facts:

Raspberries contain significant amounts of antioxidants such as anthocyanin pigments linked to potential health protection against several human diseases. The aggregate fruit structure contributes to its nutritional value, as it increases the proportion of dietary fibre, placing it among plant foods with the highest fibre contents known, up to 20% fibre per total weight.

Raspberries are a rich source of vitamin C, with 30 mg per serving of 1 cup (about 50% daily value), manganese (about 60% daily value) and dietary fibre (30% daily value). Contents of B vitamins 1-3, folic acid, magnesium, copper and iron are considerable in raspberries.[7]

Raspberries rank near the top of all fruits for antioxidant strength, particularly due to their dense contents of ellagic acid (from ellagotannins, see for instance raspberry ellagitannin), quercetin, gallic acid, anthocyanins, cyanidins, pelargonidins, catechins, kaempferol and salicylic acid. Yellow raspberries and others with pale-coloured fruits are lower in anthocyanins.

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