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Back to the Land

My New Unexpected Hobby of Bees

Back to the LandA couple years ago, my husband developed an interest in bees and beekeeping. I already had an interest in honey. I add it to a lot of meals and use it in canning. For Christmas in 2012, I gave him a homemade certificate good for one hive. I was going to make him one. Well, it got added to the to-do list, and you know how that goes .... and goes ....

My husband purchased a wind turbine in the summer of 2013 from a man near Worthington Minnesota. While he was picking up the turbine, he managed to also purchase three bee hives, bee equipment and some wine-making supplies. Which is probably a good thing, my "present" seemed to moving way down the to-do list.

My husband spent the rest of the summer and fall learning about bees by reading books, articles and talking to beekeepers. In February 2014, I ordered bees for his hive. First step in ordering bees is to find a supplier. I found one in Northern Minnesota. Mann Lake, Minnesota, is our neighbor to the east. Step 2 is to determine how many you need. I ordered two 3-pound packages of Italian bees, which include a queen. A package of bees contain about 14,000 bees. One package of bees are needed for each hive. I planned on having two hives. I chose to pick up the bees at the company the first weekend in May.

As plans usually go in our household, things change. My husband took a job that required he be gone the first week in May and the weeks proceeding it, so I had to have a crash course in beekeeping. I managed to get the hives assembled and placed. It is recommended they be placed in a shaded protected location away from sprayed fields and high traffic areas. I placed one in our tree belt and one on our friend's farm.

When it came to actually picking up the bees, I will admit I was a bit nervous. I sent the company a couple emails with questions like how do I transport them? Do I need a trailer? They were helpful and thoroughly answered my questions, but I bet they chuckled under their breath. I was told I needed no special transportation equipment, a car is fine. I should plan on getting the bees in their new home that day or the next at the latest. Dusk is the best for introducing bees to a hive. When I set up the hives I learned I was missing a few pieces, so I asked if their store would be open. To that, they said yes.

The weekend came, and off one of my daughters and I went. It was a long ride but having one on one time with my eldest made up for it. We arrived about noon and the place was packed; an organized mad house. We hit the store and bargain cave first for supplies, then picked up the bees in the warehouse. They were in little escape proof cages made of wood and screen. They rode all the way back to South Dakota on the backseat. (My 10-year-old quickly moved up front.) It was a quiet ride, but I will admit the first fly that flew by made us jump a bit. Close to home, we swung through a fast-food drive thru and had the windows down for fresh air and scared the lady at the window so bad she ran away and never came back. Someone else had to give us our order. We all arrived safely back to the farm without any strings or great mishaps.

I had better save the next step in this journey until tomorrow's blog. I had better get buzzzyy.

My daughter and a package of bees

By the way, when you are a beekeeper everyone thinks their bee puns are funny. :/

Changes on the Farm Plan

Back to the LandOne thing I have learned about life is it changes. Three years ago, my family moved from small-town America to a small farm (just outside of small-town America.) We did the whole huge garden and a variety-of-animals thing. I have blogged about our experiences on the farm before. Well, as I said, things sometime change.

My husband moved positions in his company and now travels quite a bit. Being we homeschool our three children, we decided as a family to start traveling with him. The current term for this type of schooling is roadschooling. The kids and I are excited about seeing the country and all of the learning opportunities that we will be experiencing. Traveling so much means things on the farm had to change. We had to either find homes for, put animals on shares or butcher all of our animals. Homes were found for the dog, alpaca, some of the rabbits, laying hens, goldfish and some new kids (baby goats). The rest of the dairy goats as well as the calves and pig are out on shares (we share them with others/co-operative ownership). Only have two rabbits left to re-home and 49 broilers to butcher before we leave. The garden will be considerably smaller. I can come home in the fall and barter my labor for produce from our local growers. We found a tenant who will double as a house-sitter and keep an eye on things. So, yes, things have changed.

Our plan for the farm also changed. I have been working on developing a more permaculture approach to our farm. I’m planting more perennial plants like fruit trees, strawberries and fruiting shrubs. We just set off two beehives (next blog topic) since they are more of a hands-off producer. Instead of a large garden, I plan on planting the area to clover, which will add nutrients back into the soil and assist our bees in making superb honey; should also cut down in the lawn and garden care. Many other plans are in the works.

I have learned that you must be flexible in life. I believe the changes we are making in the farm will be beneficial to us when we come home to stay in a couple years. I spoke to the people at GRIT, and they would like me to continue my blog to discuss permaculture, roadschooling, talk about the places we visit, introduce you to the people we meet, and enlighten my readers about agriculture we will see and learn about on our journey. I hope you will enjoy taking this journey with us.

doing homework outside

Photo: Fotolia/Barabas Attila

Seed Catalog Fever

A photo of MalisaIt seems retail businesses are always trying to get the jump on sales and seasons. Its why we see school supplies in June, Halloween in August, and Christmas in October. I believe that’s why I saw my first seed catalog in my mailbox in December. Here I was looking for Christmas cards and bam I see a seed catalog. I guess it is meant to get us in the mood, but I was just getting over being worn out from fall harvest, canning and garden clean up. I tossed it and the others I soon received in the magazine pile to deal with after the holidays and fighting the weather with livestock.

I returned to my seed catalog pile in February when I was ready to think of spring. It had grown in size and type. I combed over the catalogs for the next couple weeks daydreaming of the garden I was going to plant. I based my selections on 5 characteristics; my history with the company, what my family would eat, how it does in my area (not just zone but soil type) and of course price. Some companies I have worked with I have enjoyed others not so much. My favorite 4 are Jung, Indiana Berry, Burgress, and Baker Creek (my favorite.) I share all my double copies and catalogs I do not plan on ordering from with other gardeners and my local library. Remove you label first and double check to see if your information is preprinted on the order sheet. It will save everyone some confusion when all of a sudden you receive a package you did not order and your friend is mad her package has never arrived.

I usually order a couple things I haven’t grown before. I love trying new foods especially fruits and vegetables. When I am selecting a new plant/seed for my garden, I have to take in consideration of my space, time available for maintenance, my zone, soil type (pH 9), and how much of this fruit/vegetables do I really want. Do I really need 30 lbs of radishes? (umm, no) Will my family forgive me if I only grow 10 lbs of carrots? (definitely no.) My big question I had when I first started serious gardening was how much do I grow? Take a rough inventory of what your family normal eats in a week. Base your garden plan on what you would normally use. I have seen several gardening and homesteading books with how much of each  specific fruit or vegetable to grow to feed your family. I love the book Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan, published by Storey Publishing. It has an excellent chart on how to
estimate your garden size and produce.

If you truly want to grow 30 lbs of radishes, see if you have any friends who like radishes. Maybe you could set up a trade for something they grew in abundance. Maybe you know of someone that was unable to have a garden, and would like some produce or the senior citizens at church or living center.  In the fall, there is often a box of vegetables at my local gas station. People with abundance leave produce there to share with their neighbors. There is a joke here in South Dakota that summer time is the only time that South Dakotans lock our doors and vehicles and its so our neighbors (with good intentions) cannot fill them up with zucchini.

I have a fun debate going with a friend about growing blueberries in South Dakota. They had purchased some plants at a large retail chain. Bad deal I told them, blueberries don’t grow here our pH is too high. We debated this for a while, as long as it took for the blueberries to slowly wither away. I often preach that just because you can buy it doesn’t mean you can grow it. The other day I wanted to stand next to the blueberry plant display at an area large retail store and tell everyone picking one up not to buy it. Local nursery and greenhouse shops are great sources for information on this. Sometimes you pay more at a locally owned store but you are getting the right plant that has been taken care of properly and the knowledge you need to be successful at growing it. At some big stores, the employees don’t know a petunia from a tomato. Same holds for some seed companies. Some seed companies read that blueberries (just an example previously used) grow in zone 4 (my zone) but they may not understand that our soil does not support blueberry production.

Gardeners seem to be frugal people. They understand that to get a good harvest, some money and lots of time are needed. When I am looking at seed catalogs, I compare selection, price, quality, quantity and shipping. I ask myself where can I get most of what I want. Some packages are different sizes so price comparison is tricky.  I look for the quantities I would be planting. No sense wasting money on seeds you don’t need. However if you have friends who garden, you might be able to share seeds or have a seed swap after you have used what you need and still have left overs. I have swapped corn for potatoes and tomatoes for peppers before. It a win win situation. You could form a buying group to purchase large quantities of seed saving everyone money. The trick would be to get everyone to agree on which varieties.

I have compared shipping fees and they are not all the same. Some offer free shipping if your order is placed by a certain date. Some offer a flat rate for shipping so if I am inclined to order from them, I tend to order a lot of what I am looking for to save money.  Or again I call my gardening friends and we place one order for a couple of us thus saving us shipping.

OK, I will admit getting your seed orders in the mail might rank up there with Christmas, but I’m still not going to look at my catalogs until at least February.  All of these tips (except for shipping) hold true for purchasing seeds more locally. The same basic concepts apply. Make sure that you are getting what you want, what will grow, paying for what you will use (or share), and  having fun.

One more suggestion, keep a running seed inventory on you. I have been in a store trying to remember if I had already purchased enough of something or a certain variety I wanted. It will help take some guesswork out and save you money and headache.

Oh the Things You Can Do With Dairy!

A photo of MalisaA friend of mine started milking 1 dairy cow and soon was swimming in milk. She called to see if I wanted to “play with it.” I love to experiment with food so I said sure and to drop off 2 gallons. I used 1 gallon for general use and made a soft cheese with the other. I have seen the cheese I made called many different names. A couple weeks ago it was called farmer’s cheese on the Rachel Ray Show and I have also seen it called Queso Blanco. I just call it vinegar cheese since all you have to do is to heat the milk up to 180 degrees, add a cup of vinegar, turn the heat off, let it rest for 10 mins and strain. It is a very soft flavored cheese I like to use in lasagna. I have also made patties with it, rolled them in bread crumbs and eggs and fried them in a little bacon grease.  I used to make the cheese in my food processing class when I taught high school agriculture.

It all went well so the next week I told her I would try another 2 gallons to experiment with. She dropped off 5 gallons. I decided to
try making a hard cheese a couple different ways. I found some Junket tables at the grocery store and got to work. I used buttermilk for my starter. My first run did not set curd. My second run turned into buttermilk. The pigs ate well that week. I have vowed not to share any recipes until I get a successful run of cheese.

I was not going to be deterred the next week and asked for another 5 gallons. She brought over 15 gallons. I now was swimming in milk. I went on-line and ordered true rennet tables from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. I had the express mailed. I had the next 2 runs form well but tasted awful. I gave up on hard cheese and made yogurt successfully and did another run of vinegar cheese. To make yogurt, you will need 1 qt pasteurized milk, 1/3 cup powdered milk, 2 to 4 tablespoons sweetener (optional; I used honey) and ¼ cup fresh plain yogurt for starter. Mix milk with powdered milk and sweetener and heat to 200 degrees for 10 minutes for soft yogurt and 20 for a firmer yogurt. Maintaining temperature is very critical. I ended up with a run of honey flavored cheese product one time due to allowing the temperature to reach 207 degrees. Yuck!  Rapidly cool heated milk to a temperature of 115-118 degrees. Take out a cup of milk and add yogurt to it. Mix gently. Add yogurt to milk mixture. Put yogurt in clean warm containers (I used pint jars) and incubate at 110 degrees (+ or – 5 degrees). Never exceed 115 degrees. There are incubators designed for yogurt making but I used my 18 qt turkey roaster. I added water under the removable metal tray, replaced the tray and lid and kept the temperature dial low enough to maintain 110 degree temperature. It does need a lot of babysitting though. Incubation time runs from 4 to 7 hours. Mine took about 5 hours to cure. I stored mine in the fridge and used it to make smoothies and ate it with granola. I will have share my granola recipe sometime, it is awesome!! My yogurt recipe came from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Living by Abigail Gehring. I have many great homesteading books. I will try to post a homesteading book review blog in the future. I find each one has its own merits and often find myself using a little from each one.

I made butter once, but haven’t done it in quantity. I put some cream in a pint jar and shook it until it turned into butter. I once did
the activity with the school summer program, but used baby food jars.  Using pints, my arm about fell off but it worked.

I have also made ice cream. My ice cream recipe calls for 2 cups half & half, 2 cups heavy whipping cream, ½ sugar (more or less to taste), 1 teaspoon vanilla and pinch of salt. I like to use my coffee syrups for flavoring. I use less sugar when I do. My husband’s favorite flavor is toasted marshmallow. I enjoy strawberry with a couple fresh strawberries on top.  I did well making ice cream until broke my ice cream maker. I guess I know what I will be scrounging rummage sales for this summer. I love hunting for a bargain.  

I want to experiment with making milk soap but I’m having a tough time finding lye. I may have to order it on-line. My husband was to try and make it at home first using wood ash. I have found local sources for glycerol soaps but I need lye to make dairy soaps. I have an oatmeal, milk and honey recipe for soap I really want to try. I found it at  

I am also planning on trying hard cheese again. Wish me luck!!

This Piggy Went to Town

A photo of MalisaThis piggy went to town.

One night as we were just finishing up supper, my husband’s phone rang. I was confused by the answers he was giving to the person on the other side. Answers like “yes, she’s spotted,” “earlier this spring,” and “where?!?” After he hung up, he said “That was David and Miss Piggy is running through town.” It seems our momma pig (sow) had escaped and decided to see what town had for night life.  It, of course, happened when all of our trailers were indisposed or unavailable. I called a friend and secured a lawn mower trailer, so off I went to get the trailer and off Rick went to find and catch the sow. I picked up the trailer and started cruising around the last known location. I found Rick, our friend David and Miss Piggy waiting for me in the parking lot of our local coffee shop. Miss Piggy was very animate and vocal that she was not going to get on the trailer. Luckily it was a low trailer, and all of us working together were able to winch the big sow up onto the trailer, but to keep her from going over the side my husband had to lay on her to hold her still. It was a very loud ride through town since Miss Piggy went wee wee wee all the way home. By the time we got home, I was laughing so hard I was crying.

We were able to get her back into the pen and I (thought I) fixed the fence. The phone rang again at 4:30 in the morning. This time it was the sheriff’s department. It seems a pig was spotted at the post office; actually it scared the poor guy delivering the town mail. We later learned the mail carrier was the second one to call in the pig. It seems someone exiting the local tavern at 2:00 AM was the first, but the sheriff a bit skeptical of the pig citing. I went for the trailer again and Rick went in search of the pig. He found her crossing the highway in the middle of town. Rick and I were able to get her loaded again but it was no quiet affair. Then it was wee wee wee all the way through town again, of course this time it was about 5:30AM. We locked her in the barn and decided she would be heading to the freezer in the next couple days.

By 9:00 PM the next night, Miss Piggy was humanely slaughtered, quartered and cooling in the refrigerator. I froze the sides so they would be ok until I made it to our butcher 25 miles away.

I have to say we were very lucky for several reasons; the 3 half-grown piglets stayed in the pen each time the mama pig went to town, we have great friends that helped us every aspect of the Miss Piggy goes to town adventure from catching her to loaning us equipment and in butchering her, and she didn’t cause any damage or injury to anything or anyone in town except for the poor scared postal carrier. Sorry buddy!!

The Getting Ready for Winter

Why is it I got more projects completed today when the weather was crappy than on a nice sunny day. It was in the mid-fifties but we have a sustained wind of 40 with gusts higher. I got the chicken coop cleaned and ready for winter with a new pile of straw. I used my chicken tractors for most of the summer so to do selective breeding and to keep the birds out of my garden, but I don’t think the chickens would do well in the tractors during a South Dakota winter. It would be too harsh, so after I was done in the garden I let the chickens out. They do very well in the traditional coop during the winter. I tend to get cleaning the coop out on my to-do list twice a year. Being free range chickens they do not spend a great deal of time in the coop; mainly at night, in the morning before I let them out (I close it up each night), laying eggs and if the weather is bad (if they are smart enough to come in out of the weather). The coop is 13’ by 13’ old style. This morning I kept having to put off the job because I had hens that wanted in to lay eggs. I figured I had better let them do their business since I had to deliver eggs later that afternoon.  Later in the morning when I could finally get into the coop and started the grand process of shoveling out manure and straw, I still had one little white hen sneaking in. I told her that she could do her business and I would keep to mine. It must have worked since she hopped up into a nesting box and got to work. She did however keep a close eye on what I was doing and clucked a protest when I stopped working to take a phone call. Funny, the person who called never said a word about the noisy hen in the background. I hung a cabinet in the coop to store my heat lamps and such in. I am hoping it will save me from having to search for them next spring. I tossed in only 1 bale of straw but will add more each week. It will keep it from getting packed and all messy. I broke it open and left the scattering to the chickens. I have seen them scatter a large round bale that was still tied.  

When I wasn’t working on the chicken coop today, I was building the dog kennel. Someone had given me some kennel panels which wire was all broken and messed up. I had a roll of chain link fencing  that had been left on a rental property of mine that I used to replace the kennel panel wire. I now have a 12’ by 12’ dog kennel for free. We normally only have the dog locked up at night or when little kids are visiting. She is still under a year old and has a lot of puppy in her. We don’t want her to run off or knock a child over.  

My husband, Rick and I went to a hospital surplus auction last Saturday. Rick and I have always enjoyed auctions, but this one turned out to be a hoot. I picked up 6 bookcases (hello organized pantry and basement), 11 lamps (only needed 2 but had to get lot), a desk, misc tables, and an elevator door. I thought it was a stainless steel countertop, but hey it works. Rick used his surgical table (purchased at same auction) with lift hydraulics and my elevator door to make a butchering table that can be raised or lowered and is stainless steel.  I tried unsuccessfully to get a housekeeping cart (envisioned a portable potting bench and a crash cart (portable scrapbooking station. Hey we all have vices). Rick also grabbed a 7’ by 7’ commercial refrigerator/cooler (for hanging and storing meat we butcher), a commercial oven with stainless steel top and office chair. It was a very productive sunny Saturday afternoon.  

I am almost done with canning tomatoes. I think I only have about 21 qts left, which is good since I only have 11 qt jars left. Guess I had better wrestle some up since I have tomatoes, and new potatoes to can.  

The goats and calf are done with cleaning up the garden. I have to move them across the driveway to clean up the field corn field, but to do that I will need to get another electric fence up. Hopefully next week, it will get done. Projects, projects and more projects!! 

Til the Cows Come Home

My girls and I were on our way to AWANA last Wednesday night  when I got a call from a friend. She had a dairy cow that had broken its leg. Their own freezers were full so did we want it. I directed her to call my husband (Rick) since I was not going to be home that night. While I was at women’s Bible study, they worked out all the details, and Rick (my husband) found another couple that would come help for exchange of half the meat, and called his boss to schedule a vacation day the next day so we could process the cow. As an high school agriculture teacher, I have had classes in meat science, tour numerous processing plants, and taught meat science to students, but to tell the truth I was a little intimidated with the prospect of doing it myself. I was worried that we would not get the retail cuts done correctly, but as a group we decided to just do stew meat and ground beef. Our decision was based on that typically dairy cows have an extremely low fat percentage and the older the cow the tougher the meat. Any meat from our cow may be dry and tough. Grinding the meat cuts the tissue down into smaller sizes and I will can the stew meat so water and slow cooking will aid by adding moisture and breaking up the tougher fibers. A person may also add fat or mix ground pork to add fat and flavor to extremely low fat meat. 
By 9 AM the next day, we had the cow at our house. We made her comfortable and gave her a half an hour to relax before we would start. Our help arrived a short time later and we got started. We said a little prayer for the cow thanking the Lord, our friends and the cow itself for providing our families with meat to eat.  We were comforted by the fact we could end the cow’s pain. Rick provided the cow with a very quick death by shooting it in the head at a close range. 

The men worked quickly to hang the carcass up and drain the blood. The blood is full of nitrogen and will be spread throughout the garden. The next step was to remove front feet and head, then the hide. The hide is removed from the high point (back legs of hanged properly) down. This allows gravity to aid in removal.   The hide was stretched and is currently drying. The offal or guts are then removed, by tying off the anus with string, then cutting through the hide (but not into guts) down from anus to throat. The guts should roll out and be removed. Offal was fed to the pigs this time. Maybe next time I will save soup bone and such. For the sake of time and our own learning curve, the pigs ate well (and loved it.)

Rick and friend working 

The carcass was then cut into quarters and moved to a table were the group worked on cutting it off the bones and removed connective tissue.  We didn’t cut the injured leg quarter up due to blood clots and injured tissue. After getting the quarters cut into manageable pieces, we moved into the house and cut the large pieces into stew meat and smaller chunks that could fit into the meat grinder. As typical of dairy cows, the meat was very lean. Some pieces looked just like tuna. We ground about 150 lbs of beef and bagged 30 pounds of stew meat. I packaged the meat in 2 lb packages, but I think they probably weighed close to 2½ to 3 lbs. 

table work 

I canned the stew meat in quart sized jars with a tablespoon of boullion. I processed them in a pressure canner at 10 lbs for 90 minutes.  

A special thanks goes out to Sarah and Mr B for helping provide for our family.