Monday, April 14, 2014

Easter Present

This will be my last post until after Easter.  We are hosting my family again this year and there's lots to do!  If you'd like to see what Easter looks like at our house, you can take a look at last year's pictures.  And, just a side note- if you really want to force yourself to get spring cleaning done in the spring, volunteer to host Easter! :-)

Also, please don't forget that every 5th cookbook ordered before May 1st will be free!  See details here.

Okay, and now for a special little Easter treat for you- colored Easter pollen from our bees!  Saturday was a beautiful day for another hive inspection.  I donned my veil this time and still managed to get a few good pictures.  The veil may just be my new best friend.

Happy Easter, lovelies!  In the midst of all the festivities, may you remember that HE LIVES!

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April Bees

I mentioned the other day that we recently did a hive inspection of our three top bar honeybee hives.  We had thought that all three colonies survived the winter because there was consistent activity coming and going from all three hives on warm days.  We were thrilled!  We knew that we needed to get inside the hives, though, and really check on them for a few reasons.

1) We wanted to make sure each colony had a queen.  If we couldn't spot the queen, we at least wanted to see eggs.  This would tell us that a queen was alive three days prior which is a very good sign.

2) We wanted to see the brood nest growing.  Usually, the ratio of eggs to larva to capped brood (from which adult bees emerge) falls around the 1:2:4 ratio.  If there are more eggs and larva than there should be in this ratio, you know the queen is increasing her laying and building up the hive (this should happen in the spring).  If there are less, you know she might be having trouble.

3) We wanted to check on their food stores.  While plants are blooming now, there can be lapses of no nectar or pollen in the spring so they need back up reserves.

It was 70+ degrees and partly cloudy with no wind- a good inspection day.  Earlier this spring when we just looked in the backs of the hives, I wore my nifty hand-me-down bee veil for the first time.  It fit fine and I appreciated the protection but I couldn't see through the veil well enough to take good pictures.  Between the veil and the glare of the sun on the camera screen, I was just guessing as to what I was taking pictures of. So this time, I left the veil in the house.

 Busy honeybees.  In the top of the photo you can see capped brood.  In the center and lower left you can see lots of pollen- a very important ingredient in what the nurse bees feed the eggs and larva. Pollen stores are crucial this time of year since the queen is increasing her laying.

We opened up the first hive after smoking it and started pulling out the bars.  Everything looked great.  There were lots of bees, they had several full bars of capped honey in the back, we saw lots of brood (including eggs), and could tell that the queen was building up the hive.

Lovely brood nest comb- capped brood in the center surrounded with pollen, nectar and capped honey (seen at the top).

All of a sudden, SMACK.  A bee shot out of the hive I was leaning over and collided with my chin.  The force of the contact surprised me almost more than the sting.  This was the first time any of our bees had stung me.  Last year I never wore a veil and got just as close as Jamey (who does wear a beekeeper jacket and veil) and I went the whole year without a sting.

I walked away quickly, with the bee (or another) buzzing around my head until it left me.  I asked Jamey to hurry and come over to remove the stinger- I could feel it pulsing more venom into my face- and to smoke my face to cover the pheromone that alerts other bees that I am sting-worthy.  He pulled out the stinger and I went back to watching- this time from a distance.  More on the sting in a minute.

So the first hive looked great.  The third hive looked great.  The second was a sad sight.

As we moved through the bars from the back to the front what struck us was 1) there were little to no bees, 2) there was little to no honey stores, and 3) the empty honey combs appeared to be chewed open in a hurry versus carefully and cleanly uncapped as normal.

When we moved into the area where the nest should be, we saw it- evidence that the colony had died. There was an obvious circle of dead bees on two combs that were facing each other and a pile of dead bees underneath.  This was what was left of the winter cluster.

Dead bees still in cluster form with more dead bees below.  Also on the bottom was chewed up wax caps that had been chewed off the capped honey.  There was no one left to clean up.

At some point during the winter, the colony dwindled and died.  The activity that we saw flying in and out were other bees stealing that colony's honey.  When they rob, they don't care about uncapping the honey neatly (and no one cleans it up and repairs it).  The reason they didn't appear like they were in a robbing frenzy (I'm guessing here) is because there was no one guarding the hive.  They just walked right in and flew right out, laden with honey.

Chewed open honey stores and some remaining capped honey.

Since we think it's our other colonies taking the honey, we decided to let them finish it off then we'll have to find a way to safely store the combs until they can be used again by the surviving two colonies or a split.  We did, however, take the bar seen above inside for us to eat.

Rusty at Honey Bee Suite introduced us to comb honey- cut sections of honey-filled comb to be eaten comb and honey together.  I always thought that the only way to do this left you with a wad of wax in your mouth that had to be spat out.  Rusty explained that the best was to eat it is to spread it on hot, toasted bread, like you would butter.  The wax melts and soaks into the bread a bit and when you bite and chew the bread, you don't even know the wax is there.  All you taste is freshly uncapped, flavorful HONEY.  Your body doesn't digest the wax, so it just goes out the other end, unbeknownst to you.

We had some for dessert that night and it was heavenly.  Next time, I need to plan ahead and have some fresh baked rolls coming out of the oven to spread it on.

Back to my sting.  It's been awhile since I've been stung by a bee but I wasn't worried that I was allergic in a dangerous-sort-of-way.  I didn't swell up hardly at all, but Lord have mercy did that stupid sting itch!!  It itched for 3 and a half days.  And if I itched it or even touched it the itch factor skyrocketed.  I used anti-itch cream which worked really well but I'm thinking twice about my veil next time I head out to the bees.

All and all, we're really pleased that it appears that two of our hives will survive the winter and spring.  We're hopeful that we will be able to take excess honey from them this summer and are excited to make splits to increase the number of colonies we have.  We're thankful that last summer our two starter-colonies turned into three.  If not, we might be down to only one.

I highly suspect that this beekeeping hobby will never, ever get boring.  I could do without the sting-excitement itch, though :-). Pin It

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Week I'd Been Waiting For

Last week was glorious.

Temperatures climbed, daffodils bloomed and a group of robins held church in our lawn.  I had more free pockets of time than usual so I started in on many of the spring things that had been forming themselves into an ever-growing list in my mind.  With windows open to air out the house, the sun on my face and warm breezes in my hair, I leaped out into spring.

Laundry was hung on line (and was nearly blown away).

Snow pants, hats, gloves, and boots were cleaned up and packed away.

Flower beds were cleared of debris- making room for green shoots everywhere.

Our annual purchase of chicks was made- to entertain children and replace aging-out layers.

Our movable rabbit hutch is proving to be a perfect home for these peeps until they graduate to the chicken tractor. 

We went into the hives (two out of three colonies are alive) and I was stung for the very first time by one of our own (more on the bees later).

Flowering bushes, fruit trees, and blueberries were pruned and mulched (raspberries are still on the list).

A large bed was tilled, raked and planted for a swath of wildflowers which will hopefully bloom in view from my kitchen, provide food for our bees and flowers for our table.

Indoor bins of squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes were picked through and the soft ones thrown to the chickens.

The chickens were banished from the garden with wings clipped and stern warnings.

Sometimes you just have to paint it on.

Sunflower seeds came in the mail as did the first order of school books for next year (spring puts me on my tippy-toes).

The playhouse and tree house are lonely no more.

Herbs were started in pots and peas were planted in the ground.

A beloved tree died last year and was finally brought down- a lot of work but also more firewood to squirrel away. Children picked up many a stick, log and branch.

And last but not least- almost every single muscle in my body went on strike.  Their form of negotiation was pain, soreness (yes, they are different) and only allowing me to move slowly and with much wincing and whining. 

Yes, my friends, spring has arrived. Hallelujah!

"Please let me back in the garden.  I won't eat anything you don't want me to.  I promise."
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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dyed Easter Eggs (Natural and Unnatural)

Easter is just around the corner and if you need some new twists to the standard dyed Easter eggs, I have two to offer.

Our favorite is (surprisingly) the unnatural way- My Grandma's Pickled Easter Eggs (page 73). They're tart, vibrant and remind me of every Easter I can remember.  Once a year, we pull out the store bought dyes for these eggs.

Our second favorite choice is the natural way- Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs. Beets, purple cabbage, turmeric and coffee give beautiful (natural) hues. 

What's your favorite way to dye eggs?
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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Mother's Day Cookbook Deal!

Hi, friends.

I wanted to let you know that I am running the same deal leading up to Mother's Day as I did leading up to Christmas.  Every 5th (coil bound) cookbook ordered will be free! So, if you need a gift idea for your mother, a mother you know or an idea to give others for yourself, read on!

It will work the same as last time: Go here and order a cookbook.  If your cookbook order falls as the 5th, I will reimburse you the cost of the cookbook ($15.99) within 24 hours.  You will still pay shipping (and sales tax if it applies).  I will start with a random number between 1 and 5 so that one of the first orders placed may actually be the first 5th.  If you order multiple copies, only the one that falls on the 5th will be reimbursed.  If you're highly ambitious and order five, you'll be guaranteed a free one!

This deal will end May 1st to ensure delivery by Mother's Day (Sunday, May 11th).  International orders take longer, so please order earlier.

I gave away 13 cookbooks leading up to Christmas and I can't wait to give away more!


the recipes for all these foods are found inside
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Monday, March 31, 2014

Spelling: Four Ways

In a month or so, we'll be wrapping up our 7th year of homeschooling.  I remember that when we first started "7 years" sounded like forever and I thought that homeschooling families who had done it for that long must be experts. 

I certainly never feel that way, regardless of the almost 7 years under my belt (is that what that is?).  What I do feel, though, is that I'm much better accustomed to going with the flow, tweaking and changing what we do to make it fit instead of lamenting over whether I make the perfect choice of curriculum for each subject every year.

Spelling is a perfect example of this and one of the reasons I love homeschooling.  If something isn't working, I can change it!  Over the years of Sam (K-6th) and Sadie (K-2nd), we've used four different spelling programs.  I thought it might be helpful to share a little bit about them in case our experience might benefit your family.

Spelling is a odd thing.  I have never been very good at it.  The English language has so many funny rules and many of the rules don't apply at random times and often for no apparent reason.  No wonder it can be tricky for kids to learn!  Here's a bit of our journey....

I started both Sam and Sadie out with the Spelling Workout books.  They reminded me most of what I remember doing in public school for spelling.  Each week, the child is presented with a list of words that have something in common.  Then they're given short exercises to practice spelling their words with little boxes the right size and height for each letter to act as clues.  I would also ask them to occasionally write sentences that used their list words or practice writing trouble words a certain number of times.

Sam breezed through the workbooks the first few years and then became incredibly bored with them.  He is a voracious reader which helps immensely with spelling.  He certainly doesn't always spell words correctly right off the bat but he can look at a word he's written and know whether it looks right or not because he's so familiar with the written language.

Sadie breezed through the first year of Spelling Workout but then began to have trouble.  There was little explanation of rules and reasons as to why more challenging words were spelled in a way she wasn't expecting. Just memorizing the spelling was difficult (and no fun for sure), so we abandoned them for Sadie as well.

Back to Sam.  After Spelling Workout we tried Sequential Spelling. It is one of the spelling programs recommended by Sonlight and I was intrigued because it looked so different.  Each day, the child is dictated a rather long list of words.  As they write them down, the parent is watching and immediately corrects any misspellings.  There are no tests, no exercises.  Just a list each day to dictate.  Words in the list are repeated and share prefixes or suffixes so patterns are established.

There wasn't really anything wrong with this program other than I kept thinking about another spelling program I had on my shelf that I had wanted to try: Spelling Wisdom.  This is a Charlotte Mason-inspired spelling curriculum which is also based on dictation but instead of dictating lists of words, excerpts or poems from famous writers are dictated.  The child is exposed to excellent writing and through the chosen passages, the child learns to spell the 6,000 most used words in the English language.  

The way it works is that parent and child read through the passage together and determine which words the child doesn't know how to spell already.  The child practices and studies those and once they can spell them, the passage is dictated to them to ensure they can, indeed, spell all the words correctly.  We're still using Spelling Wisdom for Sam and he and I both enjoy it (as much as one can enjoy Spelling, of course).

Back to Sadie. Again, I went to Sonlight to see what they recommended.  I needed a program that would go a little slower, provide more explanation of rules and some new ways of thinking about/doing spelling.  I decided to try All About Spelling.  I must admit, I was a bit intimidated by the actual program when it arrived.  The teacher's book was simple enough to follow but there were lots of rule cards to file, magnetic letters to find a board for, and clear, colored discs for who-knows-what.  I had to sit down and give it more thought than the other programs just to figure out how it worked, BUT BOY DOES IT WORK (for Sadie)!

We started back at Level 1 and Sadie (and I!) learned spelling rules I never knew existed which makes spelling seem less of a giant guessing game.  For example, how do you teach a child whether to use a "k" or "ck" when they hear the "k" sound at the end of a word?  Well, there is a rule for that.  If a short vowel sound is used before the "k" sound, you use "ck".  Now she knows and there is no floundering and guessing! It also teaches the student to spell by breaking down words into syllables (that's what those clear, colored discs were for) and has built in review of rules.  We are well into Level 2 at this point.  It takes a little extra time compared to the other programs but she's getting it.  She loves the magnetic letters and really does benefit from "building" words on the board as well as writing them.

So, who knows.  Maybe we've found the spelling programs we'll stick with from here on out.  Maybe as their needs change, we'll switch again.  Either way- we can do it.

Take that, spelling. Pin It

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hallway Floor & Redo: Part 2

Well, I (personally) have not done much since the first stage (see here for Part 1).  We did have a friend paint over the pale peach-pink walls and light blue trim. What a difference a little paint can make!

As you can tell, the floor is the same.  If we want to do something about it, our choices seem to be 1) sand the outer/darker sand away (which may contain lead), 2) use heavy-duty chemicals to strip the dickens out of it, or 3) add a protective coating of stain or wax and just let it be.  I'm pretty partial to choice three right now.  It has character, does it not?

What would you do with it?

So, the next stage of this project is tackling the stairs, which as you can see below, are still blue.  Once I can open up the windows again, I intend to strip the treads only.  Let's keep our fingers crossed that there wasn't a rug runner on those steps at the time they pulled out that red-brown stain.  Regardless, my plan is to strip the treads and paint the risers the same color as the trim.

Since I don't like the idea of any of us slip-sliding down the stairs and don't want to put our cheap-but-very-functional-carpet-runner back on my freshly stripped and painted steps, I'm hoping to...dare I say it and jinx myself?...teach myself to make small, braided rugs for each tread.  Go ahead.  Laugh your head off.  I am!

My grandmother made braided rugs and my parents still have and use several of hers.  That project may be a long time coming, so the cheap-but-very-functional-carpet-runner might go back on on a temporary basis. 

I'll share more about this project once I start on the steps in a couple months!

Back to the hallway, though. What would you do with that floor? Would anyone else consider just a clear coat?
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