Tag Archives: homesteading

Guest Post: Suburban Bees

It is always nice to find other beekeepers and homesteaders in the burbs’. Here is another great story from the opposite coast!

thekitchensgarden

Greetings from Northern California! As I write, the rain is pouring down, a real boon for our drought-stricken area. Looking outside, I can see the plants in our raised beds looking a little limp, and our chickens huddled miserably in the dry corner of their run. I can’t see any honeybees at all, though, and that’s because they are snugly huddled together in the middle of their hive, between bars full of honey!

I enjoy reading Cecilia’s blog so much, for many reasons, but I think the thing I find most fascinating is the larger scale of her operation. Cecilia has many barns, pastures, and animals, spread across acreage. Heavens, she even has to zipline across a creek to reach some of them! (Ok, maybe not yet.) Reading about the size of the Farmy delights me.

Here at Poppy Corners Urban Farm, space is at a premium. Four of us…

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Aquaponics-Grow bed maintenance

I had to make some changes in the greenhouse this winter which gave me the opportunity to take a closer look at my grow beds. The grow beds had a high concentration of fish solids making it difficult to maintain clean water and a proper ph balance.

These tanks have been in operation for over 3 years so I guess that’s not bad considering how lax I have been cleaning the swirl filters, which removes 80% of the fish solids. Note the mud like substance in the photos as well as the algae buildup in certain areas of the grow bed.

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The only real option I had was to remove the grow media and rinse it through strainers to remove as much of the solids as I could before returning it to the grow bed.

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Hopefully I will never let it get that bad again, but I know my fish and plants appreciated the clean out.

 

 

 

Garden Growth-Good and Bad 2016

Watering, weeding, and digging, but very little close to harvesting. This year has been very strange. I think the spring weather, almost constant rain, getting the garden out later than normal, and now near drought conditions are causing strange growth patterns in our garden.

I actually took time to walk around our 1/5 acre homestead the other day just to survey how all the plants and trees were doing. I was a little surprised at the lack of growth from some plants that usually do very well, while their is an abundance of growth from other plantings.

On the good side-Our corn is ridiculous! I planted it next to one of our sheds and it has grown taller than our 10′ high shed! Not only that, but most years we only get 1 ear per stalk, most of the stalks this year are giving us two!

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20160717_090435Most of the melons are doing very well-trying to take over the garden even when I built “towers” for them this year.

This is the second year for my Jerusalem artichokes and they are feeling very happy as well.

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Many of my fruit trees-in particular the pears- which gave us an abundance of fruit last year, has not even flowered this year. The trees seem full, healthy and happy, but no fruit.  The apple trees, right next to the pear trees are bearing much this year-I had to thin out the fruit growth  there was so much.

I think everything else is pretty much on track with our late planting. Have some nice green tomatoes, green beans are vining well, all the herbs and other plants seem to be doing their job. My only real concern is the pepper plants.

Our pepper plants are usually very prolific. We get so many peppers that I cut the amount that I normally plant down to just 8. They are still growing, but they are much farther behind than other plants. They don’t seem unhappy, just slow growing. I will just keep an eye on them  and if they don’t spring up I may go ahead and plant more, or I guess if they don’t produce, I can put some in the greenhouse aquaponics for late season or winter.

Here are some pictures of our garden beds around our yard. Enjoy!

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Water Retention is just “Swale”

On our little 5th acre suburban homestead in the Mid-Atlantic Region, there is always one area of concern from mid-June through late August…..Water.

We don’t tend to get a lot of rain during these months and when it does rain, it is a quick storm or sudden downpour. The problem with the rains we do get is it runs off very quickly instead of soaking through for a deep root watering of all our plants.

So, this year I decided to try and build a water retention ditch through part of our back yard. Most of our ground is very level, so I don’t know if you could call this a true swale, but it is built of the swale concept.

I started by digging a trough basically about 18″ deep and made sure that the bottom grade of the ditch was perfectly level from one end to the other. Getting the base level means that although the trough is anywhere from 12″ to 18″ deep, the water will still remain evenly throughout ditch.

After the ditch was dug and I insured it would hold water evenly, I put a layer of landscape fabric before adding fill. The fill is done with old logs and tree trunks, which will help retain the moisture of every rain.

Then to top it off is a “path” of large rock. The rock will allow easy water flow, yet adds the appearance of only being a path through the mulch of garden beds.

Sorry I did not get pictures of the area when I first started, but here are the pics of the project and finished work.

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The swale runs between some fruit trees and in the middle of a larger “food forest” which I am hoping that it will keep enough water dispersed throughout during the dryer season.

The berm built on the side from the dirt dug from the trench will serve as extra planting space. Have not decided exactly what I will plant yet, but I will have it finished up in the next few days.

My plan is to add two or three more if this does exactly what I am hoping it will do. Any way I can keep more water on the property is a great advantage to the amount of watering we have add to do these past few years.

2016 Honey Flow

Its that time again. Around July 4 seems to be the perfect time to harvest our honey from the hive. I had high hopes this year, as this was the second year that this hive would give us honey, but once getting into it, I was a little let down.

Last year (2015)we were able to get about 11 pounds of honey. Not a fantastic harvest, but still very excited about our first year. This year I truly expected that we would be able to harvest two to three times that amount, as the hive seemed very strong and thriving.

I guess sometime in the spring, we must have had a swarm from this hive. When I opened it up, the bee population seemed very low. Unfortunately, I had my wife taking pictures while I explored the hive and none of those pictures came out for some reason.

In the brood boxes, I found lots of empty cells, drone and female, along with a good amount of brood. There was a layer of pollen and honey, so the house bees seem to be keeping up on their duties. I did not find any queen cells, so the hive is not “thinking” about a new queen. I am guessing that this queen is starting to fail (I did not re-queen in 2015) so I am going to get a new queen and make that change now, so there will be plenty of time to assimilate and grow winter stores.

Back to the honey. I did get almost the same amount of honey this year as I did in 2015, so I guess I can’t complain too much. I will say the honey this year was much darker, so they must have got nectar from a different source than last year. I will be adding 2 more hives in the spring, so I look forward to the coming years of beekeeping.

Please enjoy some of the pictures from our day.

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Powered by the sun-almost 2 months in

Solar.SaveGreenGoingGreen.netIt has been almost 2 months since we had the solar panels installed. We have a website to monitor the production on a daily basis and I must say I am pretty happy with the first few weeks-even with all the cloudiness and rain.

In April, which we were only live about 20 days and most of those days were deluged with rain, we were still able to produce 291.5 kw of energy through the solar panel. I would say this is not too shabby of a start.

So far in May (Through May 28 2016) we have produced 310.69 Kw. Still a little low, but as you can see from the graph below, we have still had a lot of clouds and rain.

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Our highest day production was 22.07 KW on May 16th. If we could produce 20 Kw a day for an entire month (600Kw for 30 days) This would run my greenhouse without issue, never having to pull extra energy from the grid.

Comparatively, my electric bill from the local utility (Baltimore Gas & Electric, BGE) for LAST YEAR AT THIS TIME due June 1, 2015 was a total od $280. I received my bill this year and it was for $195-a total reduction of $85.

But lets look at Kw usage from our utility bill. (Does not include solar production)

May 2015-934 Kw Average temp 57 degrees

May 2016-538 Kw Average temp 56 degrees

This is a reduction of 396 Kw from last year overall, but since I cannot know the exact days to calculate to compare apples to apples, meaning I do not know the exact reading dates that are accounted for in billing. If I did, I could calculate how much energy I produced in solar for the exact same days-giving me a very good picture of how we are doing.

I will be tracking our progress as I want to be able to have accurate information for anyone who may be thinking about going solar.

For more information on how easy and inexpensive it is to go solar please visit:

Solar.SaveGreenGoingGreen.net

 

 

Some Chicken Evolution on the suburban homestead

We started just a few weeks ago with these:

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Which in just about 7 weeks turned into these (Cornish Rock):

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But everything on the suburban homestead has a purpose, so two days ago they became these:

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And last night was a neighborhood barbeque!

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The dark meat toward the left is part of a deer roast from this past years trip to the cabin.

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From 4 hens in just 7 weeks after processing, we had a full 20 pounds of chicken meat! We still have the carcasses to turn into broth which we will can/freeze for future needs.

As an added  note, I will have to say that I am very proud of my wife who wanted to learn to process the chicken and did all 4 chickens herself. Good Job!

We are still fighting our county to allow chickens-if you would like to keep up with our struggle please check out our facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/chickenrevolution/

 

 

 

 

Recent Projects…Like I don’t have enough to do!

Getting the garden in place this year has been a real chore with the deluge of rain we have been getting in the Mid-Atlantic Region.  So I have been filling my time, in between raindrops, doing a few little projects that needed done.

First we moved the rabbits out of the greenhouse into their own new digs. The housing use to belong to our chickens, but since we no longer can have them on our property (Thank you Baltimore County), it seemed like a great place to house our rabbits. I just needed to add a small rabbit condo to the mix.

We always have extra wood laying around and in this case I had an old antique secretary desk that was beyond repair. This made for the perfect base and 2 floors for the new rabbit condo. All I really had to do was add a third level (we only have two female rabbits housed here) and some ramps for them to climb.

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Overall I think it turned out pretty good for just a few hours work.

Next I had to take the new chickens-our 6 meat birds-and get them out of the house. They were getting too big too quick for the extra large dog cage we were using. We are going to dispatch them next weekend, so I only needed a couple more weeks. I moved them into the greenhouse where the rabbits were to keep them out of sight of our 1 problematic neighbor.

20160513_164109 20160513_164230They seem happier in the expanded space, I just hope no one tells them about our weekend plans!

Another project I have been wanting to do was make some dedicated space for our potato crop. We have done ok with potatoes the last few years but I am horrible about adding to the hills as they grow, thus reducing my harvest.

This year I decided to do as a friend of mine did last year: grow my potatoes in barrels! I cut three barrels in half, drilled in some drainage holes, and set them along the fence row where they will get plenty of sun all day.

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If you do this be sure to clean up all the little curly plastic or mama gets upset!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once having the barrels set, I mixed some our local dirt (clay), compost, and perlite to formulate a good bedding mix for the new potatoes. I scooped this into each barrel and leveled it at about 4 inches deep. This seemed a good starting point with potatoes.

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I did this a few days ago and I just looked into the barrels this morning and saw several of the potatoes growing. When they get to about 6-8 inches I will add more dirt, burying the plants to about 4 inches again. I have already made up an extra barrel of the dirt mix and have it standing by so hopefully I will add more each week to realize a larger potato crop.

My friend that showed me this method got a great yield from his 1 barrel last year so I am real excited to see how this does for me.

This is just a few of the projects I have done over this rainy period. The last few days, there have been enough dry spells to get the garden in, so I will have several updates in the coming days.

 

 

 

 

Aquaponics-Can’t neglect the system

This last year  has seemed to quadruple in speed. So much has happened and changed that I did not even realize how much I have neglected my aquaponics systems in the greenhouse.

You know you have not been paying attention when you find moss growing on your grow media! The grow bed above “B” tank in my greenhouse has collected a large amount of fish poo in the grow media, allowing for moss growth on top and around all the edges.

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Honestly this past winter, I did not grow much in this bed and kept feeding the fish as normal.  The tank is currently over-crowded with about 30 adult tilapia fish, which produce a large amount of waste.

I have a swirl filter attached to the system to help eliminate heavy solids, but I have not kept up with cleaning and draining the swirl filter on a regular basis. The swirl filter with an over-populated tank should be drained every other day and cleaned about once per week. Through the winter, I probably drained it every 2 weeks and cleaned the filter once a month-very neglectful on my part. Truly I am surprised I have not lost fish from the tank as the ammonia levels are way out of control.

I dug down into the grow media a few inches and found the majority of fish waste was contained in the top 2-3 inches of the media.  I took off the top few inches and rinsed it thoroughly before replacing into grow bed.

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I  added a pound of red wigglers to the bed, which should reduce the amount of solid fish waste, since they feed heavily on the waste. Planting the bed full of herbs or other plants will have a significant impact as well.

Over the course of the next few weeks I will drain the filter daily and clean the filter two to three times a week. I am hoping within the month this will clean the majority of the waste from the system and get it back in balance.

 

Bee-utiful Morning

Finally! Had a nice weather day and some actual time in between planned and unplanned projects to see how my bee hives looked.

My one hive is empty because the bees swarmed last year and found a new home. I took it apart first just to see if I could determine any cause in the housing conditions to make them swarm.

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Left empty over winter since the bees swarmed last year

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Threw away all the existing frames. Don’t want to transfer anything to the new hive.

get any definitive information from the empty box. The pest’s that took up residence may have come in after the swarm, so I can’t really blame it on hive moths, veroa mites or other small critters. I may have inadvertently killed the queen at one stage last year and the bees decided to leave with the new queen they had grown. Who knows?

 

I am throwing away all the “guts” of the hive and will burnish the interior of the hive body with a torch to  be able to use it for my next hive. Hopefully this will kill anything that may have survived after the last bees left.

So, on to the good hive. It has been thriving well. This is the hive I got 11 pounds of honey from last year. They seemed to over-winter well, but I felt I need to take the hive down to see what is actually happening.

20160419_104008 20160419_104023I put a honey box on top a couple of months ago because the weather has been strangely warm-and rainy-so I just wanted to see how it would go. Surprisingly, when I pulled the honey today, it was about half full and the majority of comb was drawn and ready to accept more. This may bode well for this years honey harvest in July. But my main concern today was to check and see that we had a good brood, meaning lots of new bees over the next few days.

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Top Hive Body
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Bottom Hive Body
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Switched Hive body boxes and installed Queen excluder between honey box

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When checking the top box of the two deep hive, plenty of activity and lots of capped cells. So we should start seeing an explosion of bees in the next week! But maybe not….

The lower box was empty! I really was not expecting it to be empty, thought I might at least see some eggs or larvae. I went ahead and switched the two boxes positions (Since bees like to work their way up) and I will check it again next week to see if the queen is laying in the top box now.  I am hoping that will be the case, so just have to wait and see.

I will update when I get into the hive again. For now the hive is back together with the honey box on top—-fingers crossed.