Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Beekeeper's Autumn Chore List

It's that time of year. Time to do those beekeeping chores to wrap up the season and prepare for winter.

The number one thing to get done at the end of the season is to harvest the honey. This is what you have been working toward all summer. Your bees have served your garden and the surrounding environment well and perhaps they have made some extra for you, the beekeeper, to take.

1. Make absolutely sure the bees have plenty of honey for themselves to get through the winter. They didn't make it for us to take but to insure the survival of their colony during cold months. However they don't know when they have enough so they continue to make it in excess as long as the weather permits. Your brood boxes should be very heavy when you try to lift them.

2. A day or two before you want to harvest your honey place a bee escape board (There are other methods besides the escape board such as fume boards or blowing off the bees.) between the brood chambers and the honey super. A bee escape board is basically a maze. The bees will go through it down into the brood box at night but will not be able to navigate it the next day. This leaves the honey super empty when you take it. Much better for you and the bees. Remove the honey super and take to an inside location where bees cannot get to it.

3. Feed any spills or frames with honey residue on them back to the bees. The bees will reclaim every drop of honey and leave you with clean honeycomb ready to be put back on the hive in spring. In the US it is common to leave these frames out in the open, however in other countries there are laws against doing this. Check with other local beekeepers or the apiarist for your region to find out the best practices in your area.

4. Once the honeycomb is cleaned by the bees scrape off all the propolis and burr comb.

5. Store your clean frames of honeycomb in your freezer. You may also store them in an airtight container with moth crystals. (NOT moth balls) You may prefer to stack them in a sunny dry spot as well. Your goal is to protect them from wax moths which will eat all the beautiful honeycomb your bees have worked so hard to build.

6.  Make note of any hives that look like they might run out of honey before spring. Be prepared to feed them on a sunny and warm winter day if they need it. Keeping a log of what happens in the bee yard and when is very helpful.

7. Place an entrance reducer in the opening of the hive to keep out mice as the weather turns cool and small rodents look for a warm place to nest over the winter. Bees can come and go and easily defend the small opening against intruders.

8. Clean all your beekeeping tools and all your extracting equipment and store. Scrape all the propolis from queen excluders, hive bodies that you need to store, and honey supers.

9. Wash your bees suit and store until spring.

10. Sit down and enjoy a cup of tea with the honey from your own beehive!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

How to Create a Hanging Two-Sided Wood Sign

I love the look of old wood signs. Farmer's Market. Antiques. Honey for Sale. You can buy them but my favorite projects in the whole wide world are free. My preferred way to create is to make something out of nothing. A few years ago when I cleaned out a shed I found some old boards and made this sign.

I was sick one weekend and sat on the back porch painting this. The goal was something rustic looking and hand made. Possibly by a farmer. Named Fred or Jedidiah. Who lived on a farm and kept bees out behind the barn. And wore overalls everyday until he died, the farm fell into disrepair and this sign went to a junk shop when his distant yankee relatives sold the place.

Am I the only one making up detailed stories for project inspiration? 

 I drilled holes in the bottom and hung another sign. I loved that. The two part sign. A three part sign for this photo booth I made at a honey sale. Sometimes I took them apart and used them separately but sometimes I used them together. I felt really clever especially since the entire thing cost me zero. Zilch. Nada. My favorite price to pay. 

But as I decorated the patio and back porch over the last couple of years the signs started to feel a little rustic for the space. The beautiful thing about paint is that's just paint.

That means you can always paint over it and begin again.

Here's how to paint your own wood sign. 

Drill holes in the wood if you are going to hang it the way I did this one. Otherwise at the end of the project you can attach a picture hanger to the back. 

Prime and paint your piece of wood with the background color you want. 

Print off the words, picture, or logo that you want on your sign.

Center it on your wood piece and tape it down.

Trace the design bearing down hard with a sharp object. I used a ball point pen.

Fill in the outline of your design with paint. I cheated and used a sharpie. Why make it harder than necessary?

Now comes the fun part! 

Now that the basic design is completed it's time to do the best part and work on the finishes. I made a turquoise wash for the bottom section. Turquoise wash = watered down paint. I used painter's tape to get a crisp line. I taped off the top and used a stain to get a cool effect. Then I mixed some furniture wax and dark stain together and wiped on and buffed.

I was pretty happy with it and hung it up. I found this bracket in our tool shed during the great tool shed clean up of 2017. You can read about that here, Reclaiming our Neglected Tool Shed.

 It looks great. Maybe a little too great. Too new.

 The cure for new around here is usually sandpaper. I love sanding the edges of everything to get a worn, loved, treasured, look. Y'all, it literally takes like two minutes! It's the final detail that attains that imperfect perfection I adore.

That's better. This sign got painted on both sides. If I'm hanging out on the patio I see the prettier slightly more sophisticated side with my logo. If I'm hauling firewood or transporting beehives through the gate I see the more rustic side. Anybody coming in that way also sees this fun little reminder of what goes on around here.

This side was free handed which is always fine for anything that you want to look rustic and hand made.

What will your sign say?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Videos from the Bee Yard: Fall Honey Harvest in Progress!

fall honey harvest

This post is for my fall honey lovers. You know who you are. 

The first week in September is definitely the earliest I have ever taken off the fall honey. Usually I leave it on until the middle of October. This year however, our first grandchild is due on October 4th and I am a crazy person trying to get honey extracted and jarred, finishing up projects around the house, and putting the garden to bed. I have a feeling when the baby arrives I am going to be preoccupied for a few weeks.

This week I wanted to bring you into the bee yard as I look in a hive so I made this little video. Which would have been a lot better if I hadn't blocked half the shot with the smoker.


I'll be writing more about why I think I had so many small hive beetles in here in an upcoming post. But the main thing was that every single frame (except the one side of this one I showed you) was filled corner to corner with beautiful capped honey. WOO HOO!

Fall Honey Lovers rejoice!

After I took out all of the frames of honey I made another video to explain more about the process.

When I talk about putting the frames back in to let the bees clean it up I only mean temporarily. After they remove all the honey from the processed frames I'll remove them again for winter storage.


Fun facts: 

1.The board I held up is called a bee escape board. 
2. As soon as I push record I can't remember anything. 
3. My main goal in this video was to cut off the top of my head so you can't see how badly I need to get my roots done.  

How to use the Swiffer "strips" I'm talking about:

Take unscented Swiffer Dust Pads and cut them up into two inch squares.
In the hive place the strips at the corners of the boxes.
Replace as they fill up.

Why it works:  

The bees are meticulous and don't like any foreign objects in the hive. As soon as you put the strip in the bees begin chewing them up in an effort to remove them. This makes them very fluffy and fibrous. As the bees chase the small hive beetles into corners to coral them the beetles run into these chewed up pads and get stuck. Every time I open the hives there are dead SHB in these pads. It's a simple and cheap help for the bees.

Read about my favorite Small Hive Beetle defense here: Review of the Freeman Small Hive Beetle Trap

Next time I'll take you into the guest house and show you how I process the honey. Still probably won't have my roots done though. 


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Are You Buying Authentic Honey? Here's How to Know for Sure


It's honey season. One of my favorite parts of being a beekeeper is getting to introduce people who have never had real honey, to real honey. If you haven't enjoyed all the wild goodness of raw unfiltered honey with the comb included then you haven't lived. Okay, you've lived but life sure could have been sweeter!

honeycomb berries and cheese

Actually I hated honey as a kid. It was disgusting. Yes I'm talking about that little grocery store brand with the bear that most people have eaten assuming it is honey.

It isn't.

Most of the honey at the grocery has been filtered to such a degree that all the pollen has been removed. Did you know that being able to identify the pollen is the only way to tell where the honey is from? Without it the honey could be from China, India, or anywhere. Actually China smuggles honey into the US all the time, so what's a honey loving consumer to do?

local honey for sale

Buy Local. Beekeepers are helping to protect the food supply which giant commercial farms and their practices have put in danger. Support them and your local farmers!

beekeeping woman

Get to know a beekeeper or find a reliable one at your farmers market. If you are in California you want honey from your area especially if you are using it for allergies. Eating lobster in Maine? You want a beekeeper from your neck of the woods! It is a lot of fun to try honey from different locales (who doesn't love Tupelo honey?) but the benefit for allergy sufferers comes from a local pollen source.

honey in cocktails

When the honey is ultra-filtered and/or heated all the good stuff is removed and the flavor changes. Raw honey especially with comb contains an array of vitamins and minerals, pollen, and enzymes that are good for you. Honey is a form of sugar but instead of empty calories you are ingesting nutrients that help your body metabolize it. Plus the honey, comb, and propolis have antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. There's a lot of good stuff in there!

jar of honey with comb

Buy from a reputable source.  There are amazing places to buy honey like the Savannah Bee Company. There are lots of great places online but SBC is the only one I've actually purchased from so I feel comfortable directing you to them. Plus the people there are really awesome. You might want to plan a field trip.

savannah bee company

You have figured out by now that beekeepers are cool, right? ;)

Get some bees! If you can't find a reliable source for your local honey, you can always get into beekeeping yourself. I have met so many people lately who have told me they would love to have bees. I'll be writing soon about how to get over your fear of bees if that's your issue but if you are wondering what's involved start with my post 10 Things You'll Need to Get Started in Beekeeping.

bee smoker and honey

So let's review: 

You want raw unfiltered honey.

 You probably won't find it at the grocery store. 

Look for a honey stand at your farmers market. 

Remember to buy local. 

Get to know a beekeeper or get yourself some bees!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Platters in the Garden Because Downcycling is a Thing

Somehow I ended up with several platters. Even after getting rid of some a few years ago I still had three or four I just loved looking at! If you have been reading a while you know there is a kink in my minimalist chain. Read about my ongoing struggle with stuff here and here.  It's how much I love the cottage look.

Dang it. 

I love decor that looks collected over time, casual, not contrived. 

Anyway, platters. I had three blue and white ones on the wall in my guest cottage. I loved everything about this, but mainly the fact that the bunny on the left is eating out of a blue and white platter!

It's overload I know. Sometimes I just can't help myself. Please tell me you can relate. 

I finally found a platter solution at a local shop. The owner of Me and Mrs. Jones had created a wispy wall of platters casually drifting from the bottom left to the top right. It looked random and genius. I thought a similar idea would look adorable on the outside wall of my tool shed that faces my beehives and chicken coop.

The ultimate farm to table nod for a kitchen garden. 

I went around the house and found all the platters I had and hung them up, except for a lovely one that my sister sent me many years ago. The collection was a little sparse. I found a couple at thrift stores. Then I helped my neighbor clean out some stuff in his garage and he shared 3 more with me.

I love that they are random.

A couple have flowers.

There's one cow and this adorable sheep.

Some blue and white.

I used some small platters to fill out the area where I wanted smaller items to drift up.

Those little plate hangers add up so I eventually used some copper wire I had on hand to make my own. I think I actually like the look of this better for a garden. I love that it looks hand made, cause it is, and doesn't look fussy or over thought.

I hate fussy and over thought.  

Y'all! This is making me so happy! I have been looking for the perfect thing to put on this wall for years. Not even kidding. Years. This got some more stuff out of my house and I can see them and enjoy them everyday. Who knows! I may even yank one off from time to time to bring in something from the garden!

You know what I really need is a garden sink...


Friday, August 18, 2017

Back Porch Makeover

I painted our concrete screened in porch floor about 15 years ago. I should probably point out that I did a pretty bad job. My husband was out of town and I was trying to do it start to finish while he was away, you know just to avoid the "What's wrong with the way it is now?" question that men like to ask when they think something will be inconvenient. There were heavy things I couldn't move alone, the downside to guerrilla decorating. The faux rug seemed like a good idea at the time...

 After all this time it was looking pretty rough. Here's a tip, if you have a metal cabinet outdoors place it on something! 

 But also in all fairness, I'm just impatient. When I am so close to putting things back and seeing how the finished project is going to turn out it's hard for me to restrain myself for hours, let alone days. When you are doing a project like painting a floor that you are going to want to stand up to wear and tear over time, self control is your best friend.

I'm literally so impatient I could not stop myself to take pictures during the process, so what we have here is before and after only. 

The first step in this process is a trip to your hardware store and a discussion with the person in the paint department. I would have chosen the wrong paint if I hadn't done this. My porch had been painted previously and was chipped and peeling in a few places. Those details helped him recommend the right paint for the job. Even the type of paint I had used previously was important.
And measure your space before so you have the right amount of paint. I assumed it would take two gallons but the paint expert assured me it was a one gallon job. He was right and saved me having to return an unopened can later.  If it's right off the shelf make sure to have them shake it up for you.

After returning home with your paint thoroughly clean the surface. I removed everything from the porch and scraped all the loose or chipped paint. I swept it thoroughly with a good broom. After that I used the shop vac to vacuum any remaining dirt from the entire surface.

Cut in around the edges. Since you are painting a floor and not a wall, doing it in reverse isn't an option. You are going to have to stand somewhere.

Screw a mop or broom handle on to your roller for this project! 

At this point I was so giddy about spilling the paint on the floor I didn't stop to take pictures. This is one project where you can forego the paint pan and just pour the paint on the floor. Paint as you would a wall. Don't forget painting yourself in a corner is a cliche for a reason. You want to start in the far corner away from the door and paint yourself out of the room.

Now comes the hard part...waiting. The paint will be dry to walk on in 24 hours. It will be inconvenient. For us it meant having one of the dogs break loose and run down the street while we were going around the house to avoid walking on the wet porch.

After you have waited your entire day to walk on it you are going to start imaging where you want the furniture to go.


This is the biggest lesson I learned this time around. There is a big difference between dry and cured. Dry means the surface is dry to the touch and not tacky. Cured means the paint has hardened all the way through and when you press it with your fingernail, it won't leave an indention. Depending on the paint, surface, and environmental conditions, this process can take up to 30 days.

That's right. Thirty days.

Because of this choosing when you are going to do this project is of the upmost importance. I would never have dreamed I could do this in August in Memphis because of the oppressive humidity. But I saw in the forecast that we were having a week of unseasonably low temps in the mid 80s and dryer air. So I pounced on my opportunity! Here's how it turned out!

In the background of this picture you can kind of see all the stuff that was on the porch piled up on the patio. Obviously I couldn't leave the stuff out there for a month waiting for the paint to cure. So I googled what to do and everyone said to wait as long as possible to put furniture back.  In the meantime I noticed how bad the walls looked and painted them a stark clean white.

 If you just can't wait you should place the furniture on wax or parchment paper folded up to protect the paint while it cures. I painted the porch on Saturday and put my furniture back on Wednesday.

 For my husband's weights and the deck box where we store unopened bags of dog food I used a cheap beach mat from Lowe's that I had on hand. It also helped define the area.

This is an old cedar chest without a lid where we keep firewood in the winter. Right now I'm using it as a catch all. But look at that gorgeous floor!

I was finally ready to get to the fun part!

Arranging furniture...

Adding plants and accessories...

Every plant gets a waterproof container underneath!

You have to have someplace to place your coffee...

Finally, a fun piece of art for the wall finishes off the space.

All that's needed now is a book and a glass of lemonade. Happy porch sitting, y'all!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

10 Things to Do When Planning Your Pollinator Garden

bee on flower

Usually around this time of year in the garden I start thinking about what I wish I had done back in the spring. This is a great time to look around the yard and garden and begin making a plan for next year. Here in the south it allows you to take advantage of beautiful upcoming fall days to get the laying out and soil prep done. 

Did you know digging in the soil can make you happier? 

 In a previous post I recommended planting a pollinator garden as another way to help our buzzing friends. If that's how you choose to be part of the solution you may be wondering what to plant that would most benefit the bees in your area. Here are some tips to help you get started once you have decided to make part of your yard, garden, or balcony a friendlier space for bees. Read about a day in a bee's life.


What to Plant

1. Plant colorful showy flowers. Bees are attracted to flowers with bright colors, particularly those in the blue violet range of the color wheel, along with white and yellow. They don't see red but plant those if you like for the butterflies and hummingbirds. Good examples are bee balm and Russian sage

2. Plant flowers that have one large blossom so that the hefty bumblebee can land on it securely. Think of sunflowers, zinnias, rudbekia. And plants that have tiny flowers for small bees. I like lamb's ear and salvia.

3. Plant plants that have hollow stems. Many varieties of native bees are solitary and nest in holes in the ground or in hollow stems of plants. All of the brambly canes like raspberry and blackberry are wonderful choices along with many types of ornamental grasses. 

4. Plant types of flowers in big patches. This helps increase the bees' foraging efficiency. 

5. Use low maintenance plants. The less we disturb a pollinator garden the better. This is not the place for plants that need deadheading and pruning. My favorites are bee balm, coreopsis, and many types of herbs like oregano. 

6. Plant for consistent bloom. As soon as bees emerge in the spring they need nectar. After the big blooming season of spring and early there can be a dearth of flowering plants. Add things that bloom in late summer and early fall. Where I live narcissus, forsythia, and apples bloom very early. My absolute favorite for late summer to early fall are garlic chives which have white blossoms and do a wonderful job of providing nectar in that late summer dearth. 

7. Plant flowers that have single blossoms. Many of the big showy double blossomed hybrids cultivated for enjoyment in the garden have little or no nectar for bees.

alaskan dandelion

Other tips

8. Garden, don't landscape. Don't mulch or use weed barrier everywhere. 70 % of native bees nest underground. 

9. Don't use chemicals. Even if you end up with a few weeds it's okay, they are bee friendly. Bees actually suffer when weeds are completely eradicated.

10. Leave stalks standing overwinter. For those bees that like to nest in hollow stemmed plants it's important to leave them a place to hibernate and nest next spring. 

With the loss of native habitat to bees happening all over the world it is more important than ever to garden with them in mind. Planting one or all of these plants is a great way to help them in their time of need whether you are doing it in a spacious backyard or in a container on your apartment balcony, every pollinator friendly plant matters now.

Now when those garden catalogs start showing up next January you'll know what to do! 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

How To Create Your Own Reusable Food Wrap

how to make reusable food wrap

I make and sell these so I know you are going to think I'm crazy for giving away this simple how-to.

But more than anything I want you to live your best and most creative life. My first priority is always to help you do that. So if you want to give this a try, here's how:

What you need: 

Propolis (optional)
Cookie sheet
Aluminum foil
Pinking sheers

Caution: Use the lowest temperature setting on your oven when you do this project and don't use anything you don't mind ruining. Beeswax and propolis are super tenacious when it comes to clean up. It's best just to designate things for this project. 

The Process:

Start by grating your beeswax.

making beeswax food wrap

Cut your fabric to the desired size. My pinking sheers aren't too sharp after doing this a few times so I make my initial size cuts with regular scissors and then after the beeswax cools I trim the edges with my pinking sheers.

making food wrap with beeswax

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil or use a disposable aluminum pan. That you are going to recycle, of course! That's why I love you. 

Lay the fabric on the cookie sheet and then grate your beeswax/propolis over the top.

making home made food wrap

Place in an oven on a setting below 200* and wait for wax to melt. This should take about 10 minutes but this whole process involves a lot of trial and error.

making beeswax food wrap

Remove and immediately brush the melted wax over the fabric. Hurry! It will start to harden the second you take it out of the oven! However fast you think you need to go, speed it up. 

I should probably tell you, that brush won't be able to be used for paint ever again. Like ever. 


What's propolis, you ask? 

Propolis is a sort of glue that the bees make out of tree resin. They use it inside the hive to glue everything together, to control the micro-climate inside, prevent diseases, and reduce vibration. When I was researching this process a lot of people said that the plain beeswax wasn't quite right and I noticed that lots of people said adding propolis improved the wrap.

Since I harvest a good bit of propolis along with my beeswax it was easy for me to incorporate it. I haven't ever bought it so don't have a brand of propolis to recommend to you. But here are some options. 

honeycomb and propolis

Beeswax and propolis are both antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial making them the perfect substances to put next to your food. Now you can reduce the use of those nasty chemical laden plastic wraps you've been using.

beeswax food wrap

Rinse your beeswax wrap with cold water and gently wipe clean. You should be able to reuse it for several months before needing to replace it.

When it's used up its ability to seal toss it in the fireplace or firepit for a quick and easy firestarter or wrap a pinecone with it to really get things going. Yeah, I know. It's the same beeswax we were trying not to catch on fire before. Timing is everything. 

And look at you! First recycling then having zero waste! You are winning at life.