Tag Archives: homesteading

chick-banner

I’m Officially a Farmer

It took every ounce of willpower in me not to make a title like “I’m Surrounded by Hot Chicks” or the like.  I mean, that would probably get more hits from search engines…  I’ve already warned my wife that I’ll be using puns like that often from here on out.

I’ve got chickens!

Late Friday night, I thought I started hearing chirping sounds from my incubator – which I found a little strange, because none of the eggs had hatched…  I checked and rechecked, and each time I stood silently by the incubator I heard nothing.  As soon as I left the room, though, the little high pitched sounds drifted around me.

I thought I might be crazy, because hearing chirping from inside an egg would be a lot like hearing a baby crying while still in the mother’s womb.  Maybe that’s happened before, but I’m not aware.  And it would be very weird.

Around 3am, I was still awake, and checked on the eggs one last time before going to bed, and I did indeed hear the chirping coming from the incubator while my ear was right beside it.  I’m not crazy.  *whew*

I then woke up at 6am to the lively chirping of a definitely hatched chick!  (I don’t think I’ve mentioned before that the incubator has been in my dining room, much to my wife’s chagrin)  I tiptoed out of my bedroom and found this little guy (or girl) wondering what in the world was going on…

first-chick

My brother had told me not to open the incubator once they started hatching because any drastic change to the temperature or humidity could kill the unhatched chicks (either drowning them because the air bubble inside gets too small, or shrink wrapping them with the shell membrane), and I had confirmed it from websites that I’d been reading.  But in that moment, my excitement trumped any logical thought I had in my head.

I started freaking out because the humidity gauge was reading a little high, and I was scared that the open egg was – well I don’t know why I was scared of the open egg.  I opened the incubator without thinking, and put him in my temporary brooder and grabbed the broken eggshell.  I then had a thought that the egg might need to stay with him (because before they hatch, they eat the rest of the yoke, and I had the thought that maybe they continue to nibble on it), so I googled it.  I would be lost all the time if not for Google.

Google shamed me for opening the incubator, and reminded me that I needed to leave all chicks in the incubator until they were dry and fluffy.  As you can see from the above photo, it was definitely not dry and fluffy.  So I again opened the incubator and put it back inside.  Surely I learned my lesson, right?

I stared at the little guy (girl?) for a while, and then realized it was barely after 6am, and I went to bed at 3am, so if I didn’t go back to bed I would probably collapse soon.  I could survive on three hours of sleep in college – and did often, sometimes resulting in the best test scores of my college career – but I can’t do that anymore at 31.  I’m getting old.

So after a few more hours of shut-eye, I bolted out to the dining room to see what else had occurred.

Not much.

I did see a few eggs with some tiny cracks, which my brother informed me to be called “pipping.”   Basically, the chick inside is pecking at the shell and makes a tiny little hole, and they could hatch anywhere from immediately to 48 hours later.  So, I did what any rational person would do: I stared at the eggs for a very, very long time.

The day before, I had decided that I was going to get a lot done on this day, so I motivated myself to get on with my pre-determined projects.  Literally every 20 minutes or so, I’d hover over the incubator to see if anything else had happened.  Around noon, the second one emerged, and the first knew it was time to establish the pecking order – which I now know to be a very literal phrase.  Kind of the oldest-child syndrome to the violent extreme.

In no time, both of these little dudes were dancing around and climbing all over the other eggs, rolling them around like they were playing a game.  I’d probably be freaking out again, but I’d read that that’s ok, and it, along with chirping, actually inspires the other chicks to hatch.  It took a while longer (while I was busying myself with other projects), but a total of four eggs hatched that day.

I won’t lie.  I opened the incubator a few more times.  I was still freaking out about the humidity, and was terrified that the unhatched chicks were going to die because it was 1% off.  I also got impatient, because one little guy worked on breaking out for hours and hours, and I helped him along a bit.  At first I thought that I hurt him, because when he got completely out he was still connected to the egg by his bum.  I did some more googling, and found out that his umbilical cord was still connected – which happens occasionally – and it would fall off soon enough.  I couldn’t help but think that it was because I tried to step in…

After a lot more checking and rechecking, I went to bed that night.  This morning, I woke up to another chick!

Nothing else really happened – we went to church and when we got back they were all pretty much fighting as siblings do.  Except day old human siblings don’t peck at each others’ faces.  Maybe they would if they had beaks, but luckily they don’t.

Yesterday evening, I moved all five (yes, I know…  I opened the incubator again!) to the temporary brooder because they were all fluffy and dry at this point.  I quickly saw that my brooder is going to be too small if any other eggs hatched.  I’m very afraid that no others will hatch, though, because of my constant overbearingness.  And if they don’t hatch, I’m confident it’s because I killed them.

I started with fifteen, and I’ve still got five eggs left in the incubator, but I feel like hatching five of them is an accomplishment.  And next time, I’ll keep the incubator closed.

Ok, I probably won’t.

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You Win Some, You Lose Some

A lot has happened over the last three weeks!

First – The Bees

At the risk of sounding confident, I’m actually getting a hang of this whole beekeeping thing…  I guess about two weeks ago, I decided to remove the top feeders in both my hives, because both hives had a decent amount of “honey” stored up.  (I put quotes around honey, because a lot of the honey was made from my sugar syrup rather than nectar)  I figured that, while flowers were blooming, it would be better for them to go out and gather rather than lazily assume that food will always be raining down over their heads like manna.  That way, when I put my first medium honey super on, I’ll get pure honey rather than sugar water.

I put my second deep brood boxes on both hives about three weeks ago, before removing the top feeder.  The last time I poked my head in, they hadn’t drawn much of the new frames out – just starting on the center frames – but there were a good amount of bees exploring it.  I’m going to be checking in today – so it probably would have been better for me to wait to post with a fresh update, but I just wanted to post everything that has happened lately.  (Or I won’t – because it started raining as I was writing this)

Two deeps deep!

Two deeps deep!

I also removed the entrance reducers for both hives, which are used to simply reduce the size of the entrance so that a small hive can defend itself.  If they have a wide entrance, then robbers (bees from other hives that are low on honey stores) could come in and steal honey without encountering a lot of bees.  The first hive (the one with only one mark on the entrance, and the one that I thought had no queen for a while) pretty much immediately covered the entire entrance board, which proved that the reducer was getting in their way.  Later that day, the second hive, however, only had a few bees around where the entrance used to be, and seemed even less active than when I took the reducer off.  I put it back in, but somewhat awkwardly diagonal, so that bees could get in almost half of the whole entrance.  I checked on them a couple of days ago, though, and removed the entrance reducer at that point, and they’re defending like champs.

Strong defense of second hive entrance

Strong defense of first hive entrance

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer on the second hive

The picture is above is fairly late in the day, so there are a lot more bees hanging out than mid-day.  I saw both hives bearding the other evening, and I thought I took a picture, but apparently I didn’t.  “Bearding” is basically when all the bees are home for the night, and a whole bunch of them cover the front of the hive because it’s hot inside – way more than the picture above.  If they’re bearding mid-day, then you’re probably about to have a swarm (half of your bees will leave, if not all) – or at least that’s how I understand it.  If I’d seen a hive of bees bearding before I learned all of this stuff, I probably would have assumed they were plotting to kill me.

Here’s a little zen bee moment for you…  Their buzzing is actually calming to me these days, because I’m continually in awe of them, and of the design that they are following perfectly (that results in honey for me!).  Around 1:40-2:00 you can see the queen (bottom right at the beginning, then bottom center when I turn the frame around.

Second – The Chickens

Two weeks ago Holly and I went up to Kentucky to see my family for Father’s Day, as well as go to Hasting Plants (my aunt’s greenhouse) for her annual season-end blowout.  (If you’re in the southern Indiana/Illinois area, you should check them out.  But – next year.  Season’s over!)  My brother was originally planning on giving me some eggs from his meticulously bred Delaware chickens, but the roosters up and died not too long before he started breeding them, so I got a mix of 15 Delaware, Ameraucana, and Black Copper Marans eggs.  I promptly put them in my incubator upon getting back home, and they’ve been sitting there for almost the entire time since.  I’ve opened it a few times to add water to keep the humidity up, but I’ve been trying to simply leave them alone.  For the first day or two, I constantly looked in on them – as if my eyes would make the process any faster…  I’ve calmed down since.

Chicken Incubator

I candled the eggs a few days ago, which is taking them in a dark location, and putting a light behind them to illuminate the inside of the egg.  A few of the eggs are blue-green, and I couldn’t see through those shells at all, and I think I need a few flashlight because the others still didn’t give me a great look.  The image at the top of this post is what a candled egg looks like – though that is not my image because I could barely see inside even when I wasn’t trying to get my camera ready.

I candled them again today, because there were a few that looked to me like they weren’t developing.  I didn’t take them out of the incubator early in the week, because I didn’t want to make an assumption and throw away good eggs.  When I did it today, though, 5 eggs still looked completely undeveloped, so I pulled them.  I cracked them open to confirm, and four of them looked like they never started developing, most likely because they were jostled too much during travel (all of those yolks were broken).  The last one started developing, but died probably on day 7, based on how the embryo looked.  I couldn’t tell at first, because the eggs had a large shadow ring inside it, which I thought might be a big crack in the shell messing with the light.  I called my brother and he told me it was probably a blood ring, which basically is a sure sign that the embryo died – and that was confirmed when I cracked it open.

I’ve still got about a week before they start hatching, which means I need to get on the ball in terms of preparation.  The first living arrangement won’t be too difficult, but building their long term home will take some time.  I figured if I actually got the eggs first, I would have some hard deadlines to make sure these things happen!

beehives

Why You Should Have the Proper Equipment When Opening A Beehive (Lesson Learned)

Let me preface this with the following:

I am an idiot.

I’ve been thinking about getting bees for over a year now, and have been reading and researching a good amount in that time.  I attended a weekend seminar on beginning beekeeping, and feel like I’ve got the basic understanding down.

A few weeks ago I bought two complete hives (no bees), and all the equipment I’d need to go with them.  I then tried to find some bee packages to order, but to my dismay, there were none available.  After about a week, I decided I’d spend the extra money and buy some nuc colonies, but they wouldn’t be ready for another month or so.

I figured I’d use the time for more preparation, so I painted my hives, assembled frames, prepared the location, etc.  But my anticipation has been growing and growing…  I can’t wait to get them started!

My mother-in-law has a farm about an hour south of us, and my wife and I went down there this past weekend for a bridal shower – excuse me, a Tea.  As you might assume, I didn’t go to the shower (Tea!), but they did need a hand moving some furniture at the house that it was held, so my brother-in-law, Nate, and I went to lend some muscle.

Alas!  My mom-in-law recently had 7 bee hives placed on her property (they get a prime location with tons of pollen, and she’ll get pollinators and most likely some honey), and they were screaming “Come take a look at me!” in their steady collective buzz.  So, of course I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to finally get a look at what my colonies would look like soon enough.

Nate and I drove close to the hives, and I proceeded to approach the hives – sans any equipment.  He wisely kept his distance.  At first, I just walked along the front of them, not getting too close, because I didn’t want to cast my shadow on the entrances.  They were busily moving to and fro, clustering around the entrances, and…  well…  doing whatever bees do.  Part of which was checking me out as well – I had some swirling around me and landing on me, which is normal.

That wasn’t enough, though, so I went around behind the smallest of the hives and took the outer cover off, then the inner cover.  Because it was such a small hive, there really wasn’t much to look at – I could only see just a few bees at the top of the frames.  I replaced the covers.

But I wasn’t satisfied.  I’d seen all the pictures and videos I cared to see – I wanted the real deal!  So, after successfully looking in the small hive, I decided to check the one next to it, which was about three times the size of the first.

Outer cover comes off easily.  The inner cover is slightly sealed shut – which is completely normal, but I don’t have a hive tool to pry it open too easily.  Instead, I just work it a bit, and it eventually comes off.

Bees!  They are all over the place!  It’s exactly what I was hoping to see, an I just stood there for 30 seconds or so, admiring their activity.  A few bees decide to flurry with activity in the thinning spot in my hair, I assume because there was a lot of salty sweat available to them.  Around this same time, Nate decided he’d had enough of the bees and quickly made his way back to the car.

I don’t know what really occurred at that point – maybe because I was starting to get a bit nervous about the bees making the top of my head a mini wrestling ring, or because I simply just realized that I don’t have any protection, nor did I smoke them to keep them calm.  Either they started buzzing louder to tell me to go away, or I just heard their buzzing amplified in my now nervous ears, but I felt like I was overstepping my bounds.  I tried to replace the inner cover without smashing any, which was difficult since I didn’t have a brush to move the bees off of the edges.  I think that was when I was first stung.

With one sting, I knew that more were on the way, and I wasn’t excited about that since there were so many on my head.  I basically let the inner cover lay where it could lay, without worrying if a bee or two met it’s untimely end.

And then I ran.

I ran past the car, and then again that same length, and then again even further.  Nate is yelling at me that I’ve got a bunch on my back – but what I was thinking about at the time was the bees crawling on my face and head.  I was trying to shoo them away, rather than smack, knowing that the angrier they got, the more stings I would enjoy.

Luckily, the stings didn’t hurt as bad as I remembered (I don’t know the last time I was stung), but I was still in a bit of a panic because of the sheer number.  I thought about taking off my shirt, but then I realized that that was basically saying “Here – why waste your time on the little skin exposed on my head, when you have this gigantic target?”  After a while, I got most of them off.

I walked over to Nate and told him to blow the bees that were on my head, to softly urge them to leave rather than force them.  I thought all of them were gone, so we got in the car and shut the doors.  I sat there, trying to catch my breath, both of us laughing a bit hysterically.

Buzzzzz…

Both of us jumped out of the car and ran around a bit, opening the back doors, trying to get the bee out.  After we were successful, we jumped back in.

Then I realized that I never put the outer cover back on the hive.

Crap.

Nate made the suggestion that we go back to the house to regroup, and maybe give them some time to calm down.  I didn’t know what else to do in that moment, so I felt like that was a pretty good option.

We walked in the house through the kitchen, where our wives were also a flurry of activity trying to prepare for the shower (TEA!).  We nonchalantly passed them by, and went upstairs to try to find anything that would work as a bee veil, and settled on a dirty clothes bag and hat.  I then grabbed a thick shirt and gloves.

With Nate momentarily distracting our wives in the kitchen, I passed by undetected with my new gear, and we made our way back to the scene of the crime.  This time, it was fairly uneventful.  With homemade veil adorned, I walked over to the hive, carefully replaced the outer cover, and walked back to the getaway car.  I stopped for a moment to make sure I didn’t have any on me, and jumped in.

Buzzzzzzzzz…

Again, mass pandemonium.  We jumped out and ran around until it was out.  We tried to jump back in, but the dog had taken the opportunity to sprawl in the front seat, since we were too preoccupied to keep him from jumping in.  After getting him out, we jumped back in, and walked through the house like we didn’t have a care in the world.

I didn’t tell my wife until around dinner, so that I wouldn’t be the topic of conversation at the shower (TEA!  TEA TEA TEA!), and a good laugh was had by all at my expense.  At the time, I only knew of about 4 stings – though during dinner, I found another stinger in my head just above my ear.

I was happy to know that I’m not too allergic to bees, because the stings that I knew of weren’t swollen or hardly irritated.  However, on the drive home, I had to swap seats with my wife, because I wasn’t feeling too good.  I ended the night with crazy convulsive chills, and then a 101.7˚ fever.

When I woke up, my fever was down, but I got a wonderful surprise in the mirror.

david-sloth

Perhaps it’s hard to see, but I have a swollen ear and brow.  We counted almost 20 stings!

My wife and I had a baby shower to go to, where I garnered the nickname Sloth (from the Goonies) because of my swollen face.  Then we had dinner with friends from church, who also enjoyed my antics.

Do I regret it?  Nah.  I’m glad to know that after 20 stings, I might have a fever and little sleep (all of which included dreams of bees), but I’ll still be ok.

I don’t think I’ll ever poke my head in a hive without the proper equipment, though!

Preparation

We were incredibly lucky to get our house and property.

(Actually, that’s not true… I don’t believe in luck – I believe whole-heartedly in the sovereignty of God. More on that later, I’m sure)

The House

Beautiful on the outside, the inside of the house is what we describe as wonky.

won·ky (wäNGkē) – adjective, informal
weird, whacked out, messed up, not working for no definable reason
(Urban Dictionary)

It was originally built without any bedrooms. Years after it was built, the previous owners’ health prevented them from going up the stairs to their loft where they slept, so they converted a garage into a bedroom. And it feels like a garage converted into a bedroom.

We obviously knew this going in, so we were totally prepared to renovate by adding bedrooms and fixing bathrooms, etc. What we were not prepared for is the process of getting the county government to approve permits for adding bedrooms.

We’ve been in the house for close to three months, and we’re still waiting on getting permits for changing our septic system to handle more bedrooms. Mind you – not the actual work, but permission from them to possibly do work. We have to have our soil tested, have duplicated soil sites the same size as the proposed septic system.

We had soil testing done well over a month ago, and the results were sent to the county, but their response was basically “meh.” They said the duplicate sites weren’t big enough. So – even though we have enough room for the septic system itself, the duplicated areas didn’t seem big enough. Then the guy said “you have seven acres, I’m sure you’ve got it.”

Then just give me the freaking permits.

I don’t get the requirements here… If I were to have an inadequate septic system, it would not affect them in any way. You and I both know that if there was an issue with my tank overflowing, I’d just dig a hole in the backyard while we fixed the problem. But I guess they’re just trying to save absolutely everyone from themselves, because it’s not fair to me to let me make my own decisions. But I digress.

After a month, the soil guys are back out today, and hopefully we’ll get that part squared away soon.

The Property

The house is nice (or – will be nice), and that’s what excited my wife when we first found it. But what gets me pumped up is the Land. (Yes – land is different than Land) I envision animals, gardens, orchards, etc, all over the place, and that means I’m happy to put up with a stressful time of renovating the house.

One unfortunate thing about our land is that it’s incredibly rocky. I don’t mean when you dig a hole, you find a handful of gravel; rather, there is a rock quarry about a mile away, and we have a natural rock patio behind the house. (As such, I realize that the soil guys have their work cut out for them)

Another unfortunate thing about our land is that the previous owners (or whoever “maintained” it for them) dumped garbage literally everywhere. There are a number of rock openings that someone deemed as landfill areas, I guess to avoid the two mile drive to the local dump. It amazes me that someone would live in such a beautiful area and treat it so poorly. I’ve got a truckload of junk that I need to haul off, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

My dad let me borrow Big Bertha – his name for a mower/bushhog/beast that will tear through underbrush like it’s cotton candy. I’ve been on it for probably at least an hour a day for the past month, and the overgrown forest now looks like a state park. (Disregarding the landfills, of course)

You might say to yourself “Hey – I thought this guy wanted to go off grid! Why is he using machinery and gasoline to devour wonderful trees?” This is Geek Off Grid, mind you.

I love technology.

My plan for getting off the grid includes solar panels (which I already have – more on that later), Arduino projects, homemade generators and general nerdiness. More than survivalism, I want to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. My homestead will be similar to one that you could have seen 200 years ago, but upgraded.

Homesteading 2.0

We’ve got a long way to go on both the house and property, but I’m enjoying the process. (Well – the process outside; not so much the process of getting permits)