Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Beekeeping: A 31 Day Introduction

Well, hello there! I'm Michelle, welcome to the series, Beekeeping: 31 Days. If you've dropped by for a visit I'm guessing that you are considering getting into beekeeping or that you are concerned about some scary things you've heard about bees. You've come to the right place! I'm going to spend a month sharing how I got into it, basic things you'll need to know to get started, and cool stuff you can make to give away or sell once you get going.

Not interested in getting bees? No worries! There are lots of simple things you can do to help bees even if you don't want to have any yourself. There are some fabulous things to make from beeswax and honey too and I'll tell you how to find the stuff you need for that even if you don't want to harvest your own honey and wax. Even if you are afraid of bees or can't tell the difference between a wasp and a bee this is the place to be!

I'll be including a reading list and other resources to help you get started and I'll be reviewing a product or two that I love. Here's what the list of posts looks like right now, but be advised they are likely to change somewhat over the course of the month so I can keep things up to date with what is going on in real time.

Here's how the series works: This is the go to page for all the links. Even though they are listed here they won't "go live" or actually have a link to follow until the day of. The posts are subject to change depending on whether or not the girls do something fascinating. So let's get started and do this bee thing! See you tomorrow! 

2. Basic Facts About Honeybees
3. Simple Beekeeping Glossary
4. 10 Things You Need to Start Beekeeping
5. What It's Really Like to Keep Bees
6. How to Get Over Your Fear of Beekeeping
7. My First Visit to a Bee Yard
8. How I Got Started in Beekeeping
9. Assembling Your Hive Part 1A Challenging Hive of Activity
10. Assembling Your Hive Part 2
11. Beekeeping Equipment
12. Purchasing Your Bees
13 Pests & Problems
14 Reviewing the Freeman Hive Beetle Trap
15 Inside the Hive: Pollen, Honey, Brood
16. How To Catch a Swarm of Bees and Entertain Your Friends and Family
17 Queen Bee War: Capturing Regina George
18. Swarms and Mating of a Virgin Queen
19. Honey Shed Tour
20. What Bees Do With Empty Space 
21. Your 5 Most Asked Questions Answered!
22. Harvesting Honey 101
23. Harvesting Honey With an Extractor
24. Harvesting Honey Without an Extractor
25.Update About the Fall Honey Harvest
26. How to be Sure You Are Buying Real Honey
27. Rendering Beeswax
28. Super Simple Make-up remover and Moisturizer in One
29. Two Simple Beeswax Projects
30. Ways to Help Save the Bees 
31.Putting it All Together

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pen & Hive Cottage Kitchen Reveal

cottage kitchen

Remember where we started with the Pen & Hive Kitchen? My darling mother-in-law passed away in May of last year and this is a picture of the kitchen with furniture emptied so it could be sold. It took 3 weekends of yard sales and several Craig's List listings to empty the cottage of most of what we didn't want to keep. To read about the lessons I learned about holding on to things you don't need read Less is More: How I Got Here. 

As you can see it was a daunting task.  On top of all this our daughter and son-in-law moved into a loft and didn't want to clutter it up with too much stuff. Guess where they wanted to store it. Over a year later two closets are still full of papers that need to be gone through and thrown out and things we are storing for our adult children.

After the sales and moving things to the closet to deal with later (not a good choice because we still haven't done it) it did look cleaner. But stark and cold. In this pic you can see the 80s style light fixture.

Some out of town relatives came to visit and I was inspired to make it as livable as possible. It was starting to feel like it could be a very nice space and then I tore my rotator cuff setting me back about 3 months. The first order of business after I was mostly healed up was to paint the cabinets which had a pink tint, and to hang the wallpaper on the kitchen wall. Yes, wallpaper. The thing I swore I would never do again. But this yellow and white on clearance at Target was screaming at me not to leave it there.

Here's a detail of the wallpaper. I'm pretty smitten with it. This picture shows a cutting board against it to cover the pink counter top. Design tip #1. Always choose a neutral for this. Because no matter what color you choose it will be dated in no time. Choose something natural or with texture: butcher block, granite, marble, stone, concrete, metal, tile or even the fake version of the above. But just say no to color. This counter top is clearly saying "I was put here in 1991."

beeswax candle

This was a great victory. The wallpaper and painted cabinets energized me to keep going. I kept looking at that trim. The walls were Builder Beige and the trim was the color of oatmeal. It looked like so much work. My husband and I had painted the kitchen walls white last winter but the trim hadn't been painted. The white walls only emphasized the how bad it looked. Design tip #2: Just always paint trim white. I don't care what the last decorating magazine says. Okay, yes I have a kitchen window with black trim. We can talk about that later. For now just remember that all trim should be white. Forever and ever, amen.

As I decorated for the Pen & Hive Open House and Apiary Tour the color of the trim only looked dingier and sadder...

White trim. Got it?

cottage window

The focus became on cleaning the entire house and garden from top to bottom and so at some point I had to realize the kitchen was not going to be done in time for the open house. I turned my focus to decorating for the event instead.

jar drying rack

 I ordered something I wanted and kind of needed for all the jars I wash, a drying rack.

I was hoping people wouldn't notice things like the trim and windows I hadn't had a chance to clean.

sunny kitchen

Ignore the pink counter top and the fact that there is no hardware on the cabinets. Look at that darling banner!

My goal in life became to get the cottage finished before the fall honey harvest. Assuming there will be one. Did I mention the worker bees are all female and do what they want? This week, miracle of miracles (!) I was possessed by some energy that allowed me to paint all the trim and baseboards, the front door, the outside of the back door. Then yesterday, our electrician called to say he could be at our house in a few minutes. Clouds parted. Angels sang. I was pretty excited. I can do a lot of things. I do not do electricity.

Why was I so excited about the electrician arriving? Because he took down the very last ceiling fan light kit in our entire house. I have no words to describe how much I despise light kits on ceiling fans. And that frosted glass hanging light is gone as well. Oh and a sad little front door light. But I'm going to make you wait to see that when I reveal the entrance makeover.

Now for the pics of where we are in the process. Btw have you ever painted a counter top? If so shoot me a message because you know what I'm thinking...

indoor windows

country table top


jar light

This adorable Pottery Barn light fixture is compliments of my daughter and son in law.

books and clock

That clock keeps getting moved...

sunny colorful cottage

Love my Victory Garden of Tomorrow poster!

grow organic food

queen bee

Get ready for October! I'll be writing a 31 day series about beekeeping starting with the most simple things. If you are thinking about beekeeping this will be just the thing!

Giving Your House A Proper Name

I've always been smitten with the names of houses in movies and literature. Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre,

Monday, September 21, 2015

How To Get Over Your Fear of Beekeeping

fear of bees

I often have people tell me that they would like to keep bees or have a beekeeper keep some hives on their property but they are afraid.

They sometimes can't articulate their exact fear but let's just assume that it's being chased down and stung to death by a swarm of angry bees. Okay, or being stung at all. Unlike a lot of beekeepers, NOT being stung is really high on my list of priorities. Many beekeepers get lots of stings and even let those helping them get stung to gain immunity. Nope. People, that's what the bee suit is for. If you come to visit me and my bees I'm going to try to make sure you don't get stung.

So if you are interested in beekeeping but you are nervous, here's what I suggest:

1. Get to know a beekeeper. This is so that you can ask them a million and one questions. Besides bees the thing beekeepers like best is talking about bees. We're a quirky lot.

2. Read lots of books and articles. But don't read the parts about all the things that can go wrong. There are lots of wonderful books that will inform you with just about all the information you need to know. But some of them are full of so many pictures of the diseases and pests that it can be kind of frightening. There's plenty of time to learn about all that later. In the beginning just focus on how to maintain a happy healthy hive of bees.

3. Go with someone to a bee yard. I desperately wanted to keep bees but wasn't sure how I would actually react when thousands of them were buzzing all around me. What if I was overwhelmed and had a panic attack or something? I'd never even been around bees when I decided I wanted to become a beekeeper! My local beekeeping association had a day when potential beekeepers could come out and visit the club's apiary. They opened about 15 hives at once to give everyone a chance to see inside. I was a little nervous and it didn't help when a bee got inside my veil! Read about the entire experience here.

4. Do it. The only way to get comfortable with the bees is just to jump in after you've read, studied, and prepared. The truth is, the more you deal with them the better you understand them and the more comfortable you'll be.

5. Be brave! You can do this. If beekeeping is something you feel drawn to then go ahead and study up, prepare, get to know some other beekeepers and then act. I suspect you will find that 

Don't let being fearful keep you from enjoying this interesting hobby. As a matter of fact, don't let fear keep you from doing anything. Fear is a terrible place to  make decisions from! 

Have you ever overcome fear to do something and were glad you did? I'd love to hear about it in the comments! Do that bee thing and share!  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Shabby Chic Backporch Details

backporch seating

I have been trying to clear things away and get ready for fall.  I've been soaking it up because usually in the Mid-South we go from freezing to sweltering heat within just a few days in spring and then reverse the process in fall. I adore all things fall and love not having to take 3 showers a day. Now that the weather is tolerable again I'm spending most of the day outdoors. That can have consequences inside.  I wrote about them in The Dirty Truth About Spring at Our House.  Of course all that time out there means that I've been doing projects and decorating and rearranging like mad.

wicker settee

The quickest fix for updating any outdoor area (or indoor for that matter!) is to change pillows and cushions. This was the only money I spent on anything new. Everything else is just reusing or remaking junk and things I already had like this Ball jar. I picked up these tiny battery operated lights on clearance and made this firefly lamp.

mason jar light

I had some tart pans in storage in my kitchen. I have plans to make them into something else at some point but for now I just stuck them in a flower box along with a chipped platter. Remember, it doesn't have to make sense, you just have to love it.

kitchen display

A random house number I found in out workshop was attached to a piece of wire and stuck in a pot of lavender.


Play with putting things together. I love how the vintage binoculars and barometer look with the floral tray.


Display anything that makes you happy. My husband remembers summer afternoons in the 60s when his parents and aunts and uncles would play croquet and sip cocktails.

croquet set

I'd had this church sitting around for about 15 years but who says you can't hang something up if you want to? It looks peaceful against the white wall with those neutral bunnies.

wooden church

I hardly ever buy anything new for outdoor decor. If you are rocking your shabby chic or junk look then just shop around inside your house. It's a great way to thin out the amount of things inside too.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

DIY Makeup Remover and Moisturizer in One

A backyard apiary is a lot of fun--and I get honey. I also get beeswax which is beneficial in skin care and candle making. I whip up small batches of moisturizers for myself all the time and thought  you might enjoy them too! If you are interested in making your own, Pinterest is full of recipes and DIY tips from people who spend a lot of time figuring out new scents and consistencies, weights and measures. I started with a couple of basic recipes and adjusted them until I got something I was happy with. You can absolutely do that so don't be afraid to experiment!

I'm still on the hunt for the perfect version of hand cream. Just a bit more tweaking...

 I'm generally mixing up things that say "one part to two parts" or something but I already see a scale in my future. Lots of ingredients are measured in weight. But for this recipe you don't need to worry about any of that.

 In this photo you can see the bees building out the honeycomb to store both honey and brood. By the way that big clunky bee in the middle is a drone. This beeswax or comb is what I'm using in my skin care products. Besides adding a thickness and stabilizing qualities it is considered to be antibacterial giving things a longer shelf life and slightly anti-inflammatory which is a nifty quality in anything we are going to put on our skin. Read about the Pen & Hive Open House and Apiary Tour!

 Here's a picture of pure rendered beeswax from my backyard apiary. Read about how I do that in the post, Rendering Beeswax.

The wax is grated and melted then blended with oils to create countless lotions and creams. These are all quite simple to make in your own kitchen. If you don't have your own bee hives it's really easy to find some beeswax online.

 The Bedtime Cleanser is a combination of castor oil, jojoba oil, and beeswax. The oils make a lovely cleanser on their own if you want to mix them up in the palm of your hand in the evening but the addition of beeswax makes it thicker and easier to use. Since it's for use at bedtime I added lavender essential oil which makes it perfect as part of an evening ritual. Massage it into skin to remove make up then rest a warm washcloth on your face for a couple of minutes. Pat off excess oil.

What remains on your skin provides enough moisturizer for the night, at least by my standards, and doesn't feel greasy or heavy.

It's all perfectly simple.

If you try it out make sure to leave me a comment to let me know how you like it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Your 5 Most Asked Questions About Beekeeping Answered!

beekeeping questions

A few weeks ago when I had our open house and apiary tour people had a lot of questions. Later I heard from people who said that they had questions but didn't get a chance to ask them. I've collected the most frequent ones to answer in this post. So here we go.

bee swarm

1. How did you get into beekeeping?

I get this one a lot because it is kind of a unique hobby. Playing around with a hundred thousand or so stinging insects isn't everyone's idea of a good time. For the long and more detailed answer read my post One Day You Are Reading a Book and Before You Know it You are Hiving a Swarm. My short answer is that it is a natural progression of gardening, like keeping chickens, having a rain barrel, and composting.

beekeeper with hives

2. Do I ever/how often do I get stung?

I'm running a micro-apiary with very few hives so my chances of getting stung aren't as great as someone with hundreds of hives. I'm also extremely careful because getting stung hurts and when they sting (and die) the bees release a pheromone that tells the other bees to sting in the same area. I've been stung about 3 times in 4 years and only one of those was bad. I ALWAYS wear a bees suit and gloves.

frames of honey and brood

3. How much time does it take up/ Do I check on the bees every day?

 This is usually asked by someone interested in keeping bees themselves. For the hobby backyard beekeeper it actually takes up very little time. In the winter nothing is going on. Early spring through fall you could easily spend as little as 30 minutes on the weekend doing the occasional hive inspection. You can spend a ton of time reading, shopping, observing, etc. The things you actually do inside the hive don't take that much time. Sometimes I spend more time trying to light my smoker than I do inside a hive.

flowers with beehive and quilt

4. Did I have enough plants in my garden for the bees or did I have to plant things?

This is one I hear a lot. My beehives are in my garden so it kind of looks like I planted for them but I actually see more bumblebees and butterflies on my plants than my own bees! Bees will travel a long distance to forage. Conventional wisdom says they have a radius of two miles but there are plenty of reports of them traveling much further. So it matters very little what is on your own property because they aren't going to stay there.

bee swarm

5. What is a swarm?

 Swarm is kind of a scary word to people. It's scary to beekeepers too but for different reasons. Read about how I caught my first swarm here. For a beekeeper it means that half your bees might fly away and reduce your honey harvest for the season. On the other hand if we can catch a swarm, it's free bees! We love free bees! A swarm is the natural reproduction process of a colony. It means a healthy hive and laying queen have outgrown their hive and are looking for an expansion opportunity. If you see a swarm in the spring just leave it alone and it will go along in a day or two. If you need a laugh you can read my post, Queen Bee Wars: Swarming Mean Girls.

These are the 5 most asked questions about beekeeping but I know you have more! Reply in the comments and I'll answer them in an upcoming post!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

DIY Lavender Beeswax Hand Cream Recipe

I recently received an email from a fabulous woman in my city who had a vision a few years ago for a place in an inner city neighborhood where children could have an opportunity to express themselves through art and gardening. Erin Harris began the Carpenter Art Garden and if you think one person can't make a difference check out the website: Carpenter Art Garden.  I was thrilled to get to partner with her in creating something special for her volunteers.

Everything I make contains honey or beeswax. Part of the fun of beekeeping is providing people with unique gifts from the hive.  Here's a picture of my girls creating the wax that went into this project. They represent the ultimate community and spirit of cooperation. I was thinking about that while working on this order to be given to people who also exemplify those qualities. 

The comb melts down and needs to be rendered before using it in projects. Read my post about how I do that here: How to Render Beeswax.

 Here's the recipe I used for the one time batch I designed especially for her event. I mixed up a little over a half gallon to create 35 2 oz. tins.

Ingredients:  3  C. coconut oil
                      1 1/4  C. olive oil
                      1 1/4  C. almond oil
                      1 1/4  C.  cocoa butter
                      1  C. shea butter
                      1/8  C. beeswax
                      1/8  C. honey
                       approx. 16 drops lavender essential oil

Melt all the oils and wax together in the microwave a few seconds (about 15-45) at a time. Stirring in between. This was a large batch for me, so it took a while. Then I carefully ladled the concoction into these tins. I am so in love with the purity of this process and how beautiful it looks and how it changes as it cools. 

Okay, I am kind of obsessed. See how it started out looking like oil?

Then the gloss fades just a bit...

Within minutes it solidifies and turns a creamy pale yellow, the color of the beeswax. I am seriously excited by this!

I wanted to create a special label for this order. Most of us aren't even aware of how much work in our cities gets done by volunteers! There is an iconic purple house associated with the Art Garden so I used purple and named it The Garden. Volunteers work super hard so lavender seemed like the perfect calming scent to add and it related to the purple in the label. The tag line I used for this scent was "for helping hands." I wanted the volunteers to know this gift was created from start to finish with them in mind. 

Punching out the labels might be my favorite part of this whole process. There is something very satisfying about creating perfect circles.

I was thrilled with how this turned out. I received an email that evening after the event saying that everyone loved their gifts. I did a little happy dance in the Pen & Hive kitchen! I am always super excited to create things that bring people happiness and make them feel loved!