As the warm weather sets firmly in, we're busy working around the homestead. Things are going pretty well this year — our gardens are growing like crazy, our chickens are laying like champs, and our bees are happily multiplying.
Of course, we're planning to expand all of these stories over time, but here's a quick look behind the scenes of what's happening on the homestead right this minute.
We started last year with two bee hives. Now we're up to six, and we couldn't be more thrilled! After a lengthy learning process, we're really getting the hang of things now. Our bees are multiplying as rapidly as they should be, making honey and storing it up for the winter. We've proudly conquered our beetle problem with the help of the small but mighty nematodes, our drone brood has been brought under control, and we've nearly perfected the fine art of splitting crowded hives.
One of the real keys to our success was the placement of native, bee-friendly plants all around the hives (thanks, Joanie!). Tons of flowering, pesticide-free plants and a watering station have kept our workers, drones and queens happy at home and rewarding us with the most incredible flower-scented honey we've ever tasted.
These are the native plants we hand-picked for the bees:
- Cardinal flower
- Foxglove beardtongue
- Lemon balm
We also decided to make a U-shaped beehive cove this year with south-facing hives to give our valuable bees the best chance of thriving survival. The southern side is where they prefer to enter their homes and it provides at least half a day of full sun exposure. During the warm months, we also bottom-vent the hives to ensure their proper temperature.
We're up to 21 layers and one big ol' black beauty of a rooster, and since the weather's staying warm we're seeing anywhere from 14-19 eggs a day. We have an area of the homestead fenced off where the girls work the ground every day, and even though they can't fly, some of our originals have found a way to leave their enclosure on a daily basis and work the rest of the ground, coming back when it's bed time (hello, Lucy!). And while we regularly let them work all over the property, our 2-foot rooster, Dutch, is large and in charge so we have to be mindful of where he's allowed to go since we have lots of kids around the homestead.
Earlier in the spring, we installed netting over the inner pen and around the coop to give our flock a safe place from the huge swooping birds of prey that are really active right now. They also love the covering that the leafy bushes, trees and plants in their home area provide — it's a place of respite coolness among the climbing heat, and protection from predators.
We also learned that protein in their supplemental feed needs to be adjusted according to the time of year. When nature's protein is plentiful, they need less in their feed. When the weather is colder and the bugs are gone, they need more protein, so we have two different types of feed we leave out for them. We can definitely tell when they're eating bugs because the feed hardly needs filling.
Our personalized combination of nutritional scratch is a treat they get once a day, and they go crazy for it! We give them cracked corn, black oil sunflower seeds and millet — all specially selected for optimum supplemental nutrition.
It's taken a few years, but we've had some real success in our gardening ventures. This year we decided to make medicinal herbs one of our main focuses with the goal of combining our knowledge of herbal remedies with the ability to make our own. In our opinion, it doesn't get much better than that!
We're growing all of the following medicinal herbs:
- Valerian root
Plus our regular herbs that can also be used for health remedies:
We're using a combination of in-ground planting, raised garden beds and container growing. Limiting pervasive plant species like mint and lemon balm by keeping them in large containers seems to be working for us, and our comfrey really loves the freedom of being planted straight in the ground.
A new venture this year was an inventive type of growing tower for potatoes and bulb onions with a populated worm tube down the center of each (awesomeness!). And of course we're growing our other favorite yearly crops including tomatoes, garlic, carrots, zucchini, peppers, peas, green beans, cucumbers, cantaloupe, assorted onions, lettuces and greens.
Seed saving is super high priority around here. We grow using only organic methods, so our seeds are very valuable and we're able to select good ones based on our intimate knowledge of how they've produced throughout the growing season. Our own personally selected stock of organic seeds every year!
It's one of our very favorite things to do in the summer. It's what we always did as kids with our parents, and we're happily carrying on the tradition — we take a couple of travel trailers and head out to the area lakes for a few days at a time. It's a cheap and super fun way to get some time with the whole family (all 22 of us), away from work and regular old daily life, and the kids absolutely LOVE it.
There's sunshine, swimming, exploring, bonfires, early mornings, campfire cooking and a whole bunch of relaxation. And smores of course! We know our little trips are something the kids will never forget, so we do as many of them as we can. We're thinking 4 or 5 this go 'round. Precious times.
What are you up to this summer?