beekeeping

BEES & SPOONS + A RETURN TO INSTAGRAM

 
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A few things happened in the last week. 
1. Rosemary discovered her tongue. We discovered how adorable a tongue can be.

2. We finished the in-class portion of Farm School. We are in this program, and it has proven to be very A+.

3. We, along with our brother, rejoined Instagram. Our intent is to use it for sharing our journey in all manner of homesteading, farming, land searching, etc. Much like our blog, but a lot less personal. No photos of Rosemary (probably). No diatribes about politics (ok, we don't do that on here either, but we bet you would just love it if we did). No getting wrapped up in "should I post this?" or "how do I caption this?" — because that is why we left social media altogether two years ago. It was unhealthy, and too personal, and left us feeling more distant, not closer, to our peers and inspirations. But we are back as the united front of @downhomefolk. Please follow along or say hello if you are on IG! Our brother Zach has joined as @downhomespoons, where he's sharing his process and handiwork in spoon carving. His spoons are our among our most favorite wares. They perform beautifully, feel special, and wear the look of a product made with care and craft by two hands. It's worth mentioning that he is totally self-taught, and built our bed frame and a tree house (!!) for his children. Here's hoping he will build us a farm house someday.

4. We are planning to raise bees again! Excitingly, this year we'll be focusing on actually selling raw honey and wooden honey spoons. Our first genuine farm enterprise, except in our town backyard and Zach's basement wood shop. We don't have land yet, but that's not stopping us from pursuing our goal of raising living things to share with you. Do you want a jar of liquid gold this fall? Can you imagine buying your loved one (your honey) or your coworkers a sweet little bundle of backyard honey and a spoon, all tied up with twine? Well . . . we hope so. If you've never tried raw, local honey, and if you've never owned a handmade wooden ware, might you allow us to help you change that?


—M&S

LATE SPRING FARM HAPPENINGS

 

I think this goes down as the longest stretch without a new post on our blog since its inception. Life has been admittedly full and busy, maybe a bit more-so than seasons past. It's all been good timing, though, as our previous post about spending five hours in Quincy deserved a few weeks front and center. To those of you who felt touched, enjoyed the post, or reached out with words of love for our family and for Erica, thank you. I am positive that Erica's greatest hope is that we all experience, deeply in our hearts, connection with her. Now, onto what's been happening in farm land . . . 

Immediately following our visit to Boston, my mama, my sister, and her four children came to stay with Mark and I for several days. If you're wondering how eight humans did sharing our tiny house and all sleeping in one big room, the answer is: great! It was a true taste of our family commune dreams. I've oft wondered what a big family in a small house would be like; now I know. The kids loved the farm (especially the baby goats) so much that they refused to go anywhere else, so we didn't leave! Settling into a farm rhythm ended up being a gift. My sissy milked the goats with me while my mom got the kids dressed for the day. Mark would set out on farm chores and the kids would meander up to the kidding barn to cuddle the babies. After milking, all of us (including the kids) would herd the goats down to pasture, while my mom would head home to cook breakfast. The rest of the day would follow suit, with adventuring, farming, and mama cooking for all of us. I learned that children are happy as clams with huge puddles to jump in, cow bones to check out, and coloring pencils. A favorite anecdote of mine happened when my nephew jumped into such a big puddle that water poured into his rain boots. With tears quickly filling his eyes, someone told him that "wet socks are part of being a farm adventurer!" He smiled, jumped into another puddle that flooded his boots, and said, "see? totally ok!" Ah, the magic of children.

Other farm happenings include: awaiting the arrival of our bees, who will hopefully flourish in this valley of meadow flowers and organic pasture; closing the books on kidding season, and opening the books on pasturing the kids we're keeping on the farm; preparing for the pigs to farrow, which will reintroduce piglet mayhem; praising the return of our CSA and the best tasting vegetables our money can buy; foraging and cooking some morel mushrooms and eating endless ramps (wild leeks); moving the chickens in their movable coop every few days so they can do the good work of spreading nitrogen-rich manure around the fields; digging holes for building projects and fixing fence lines to keep the animals from escaping. Haymaking is about to start, and with that the farm officially gets thrown from Spring into Summer.

All of these photos were taken with our iPhones as part of our 'Photos From Afield' series.


—S

BITTERSWEET | AN UNEXPECTED HONEY HARVEST

 
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Our honeybees swarmed. That is to say, they left. We knew what we were getting into when we became beekeepers—we have read all about Colony Collapse Disorder, and we have heard our beekeeping mentor talk about how he continues to lose half of his hives each year. But none of that prevented our chests from tightening the way they did when we walked up to a silent hive early last week. It didn't change the feeling of sorrow we felt upon realizing what had happened. It didn't silence the persistent thoughts that we had failed as beekeepers in our mission to help save the bees.

Needless to say, our catchphrase "I can't wait to not be a first-year beekeeper" still rings true.

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As it turns out, honey helps. It helps a lot. 

We had initially feared losing our bees after a long, cold Ohio winter—at which point, they could have already consumed most or all of the honey that they had stored from the previous season. However, since they chose to swarm during this unusually warm month of November, they left us with a bounty of liquid gold. How very bittersweet.

Harvesting raw honey is a very slow, very sticky processlike most things beekeeping. Our friends at The Wholesome Hive were kind enough to let me occupy their home for an entire morning & afternoon, uncapping honey comb & extracting honey using their hand-cranked centrifuge. After much straining & draining, I returned home with a very heavy bucketful of honey. 

After spending a small fortune on mason jars, the final, unexpected & bittersweet harvest of our first season as beekeepers is complete. We haven't finished weighing our product, but we estimate there is somewhere between 40 - 50 lbs of honey sitting on our kitchen table waiting to be gifted, bartered, and consumed. Thank you, honeybees, for your generosity. Though our hearts are broken, our coffers are full. And we know that we will be better beekeepers next year.

In the words of Jack Kerouac: "Praised be honey at the source."

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—M

KEEP IT HONEST: PART ONE | I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL . . .

 
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You won't have to listen for very long before you hear Mark or I say, "I can't wait to not be a first-year beekeeper."

It is my sneaking suspicion that anytime we jump headstrong into something, usually without knowing exactly what we're doing, those kinds of sentiments are par for the course. There are unforeseen challenges, in which you are confronted with situations you did not even know existed; there are those moments, equal parts terrifying and humbling, whereby you consider the possibility that all of your efforts are for naught.

But it would be insufficient if I did not mention the glorious feeling of hard earned accomplishment that comes with new endeavors. There is nothing quite like it. It might seem that the honey harvest would be the crux of accomplishment for a beekeeper. Or for those who are a little more familiar with the world of apis mellifera, it might be assumed that catching your first swarm, or even having a colony healthy enough to swarm, would be pinnacle moments.

For us, and I suspect for many ecocentric beekeepers, accomplishment has always been about the health and comfort of the bees. Our relationship with the honeybees is important, and it is one that is constantly in flux. Hive inspections are predicated on the understanding that if the bees are too disrupted (for any number of reasons), or if we make a mistake and throw off the harmony of their colony, we will step away. We will go home, because let us not forget that the very hive we are sticking our clumsy fingers into is a honeybee's one and only home. They have fanned, chewed, regurgitated, and died to build their home. Who are we to exert dominion over that ecosystem?

To avoid these foes, the beekeeper influences the conditions under which a colony exists. Structure is important if you hope to have any real chance at a symbiotic honeybee / beekeeper relationship. Frames (the wooden structures that honeycomb is built into) make a world of difference. We know that because we left five inches of our top super (the box that frames rest in) frameless. On accident. We always meant to get around to installing the final two frames, but one week turned to three, and when we returned . . . This happened.

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With open space, but no frames, the bees set to building freeform comb, which they secured to the hive lid. In case you are not quite following, it means that as soon as we opened the lid, we ripped apart the top of new, highly delicate honeycomb, rendering their honey exposed and their hive mentality something to the effect of Very Mad.

I will spare the unfortunate details of all that followed. It was upsetting, very sticky, and not our best moment as a couple. We did what we could, and then we left: dejected, swollen from beestings, and wholeheartedly disappointed in our own negligence. 

But we went back two days later and gently harvested a bit of honey. Because that's what you do when you are passionate about your endeavor. You read up on it, you return to your project, and you remember that there will come a time when you are not a first-year beekeeper.

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—S