J&N Homestead

Our Urban Homesteading Story

Garden beds are done and planting has begun!

IMG_20160507_120508004_HDRWe have finally finished the major construction and setup of our new garden and have it to the point that we are able to start transplanting the plants we started from seed into the beds. It’s been a long arduous journey but man I think the results speak for themselves!

As you can see, there isn’t much green just yet but boy it’s been a rainy and cold spring so once the weather finally starts to get and stay warm, I think things will start growing like crazy! We ended up tweaking the placement of several crops and I think the final placement is perfect. If you guys are interested, we used the vegetable garden planner from Mother Earth News, it’s a great deal and a great service, highly recommended!

We have a few things that didn’t make the date for the “Phase 1” cutoff so I expect I’ll have quite a few garden-related projects this summer, which should keep me busy. None of this could have been accomplished without the thankless help of my family, they really helped push this to completion when I was running out of steam. In the end, the family was able to build an amazing home garden that I hope will provide many years of food and more importantly, family memories!

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OH MY! The queen is dead!

IMG_20160516_121949037_HDRSo during the hive inspections today I found some terrible signs in one of our bee hives. One of our packages has lost its queen! She was in there last week but it looks like she has been gone for several days, no eggs or young larvae were present and after two separate inspections, no queen was found. There were lots of signs to support the fact that the hive was queenless, queen cups were everywhere but I suspect the loss was sudden as they had no capped queen cups or emergency queen cells since they clearly didn’t have young enough larvae to rear into a new queen. Luckily there was some capped brood and brood of different ages present to help the population through the process of introducing a new queen to the hive. The only question was how quickly I could get a new queen and where should I purchase one?

Well, I decided to make the short drive and pick up a queen from the same great guy who sold me my nuc this year. She’s an Italian/Carniolan mutt and unmarked but she was ready and available to be put into the hive on Monday. I may go through the pain of marking her myself, but at this point, I’m happy to just have her in the hive and getting acclimated to her new home. Being a new beek and having to go through this was a tad stressful but it’s part of keeping bees and it’s a great learning experience!

I posted a rather long video on youtube of my process of introducing a new queen to the hive. The most amazing and interesting part starts at 13:43.

Garden beds and dirt, oh my!

IMG_20160402_151455099With the fencing done, it was time to build some garden beds (I didn’t get video or photos, sorry guys) and as with every project I take on, some last minute changes required adaptation of the original plan. We had originally planned to put the gate in the middle of the garden’s long side but later decided to put it off-set to the left corner of the garden which really messed up the layout of the actual garden beds. I ended up just building a 6’x8′ bed and a 6’x6′

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First load of dirt!

bed to move the longer 6’x16′ beds out of the way of the gate and provide a nice wide path from the gate to the back of the garden. Building the boxes and reinforcing them with steel brackets went quickly and without issue, I held off on putting the hardware cloth on the bottom of them till the dirt had been delivered. Then yesterday (with the help of my in-laws) we were able to complete three garden beds. You can see in the picture below the first load and the hardware cloth lining the bottom of the beds.

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20 cubic yards of soil

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Three beds completed!

Fence is done…

I tried to use a single man post hole auger…let’s just say it didn’t work out well for me so I decided to bite IMG_20160310_102733747the bullet and rent some heavy equipment, it worked and worked amazingly. In total, there were 24 post holes to be dug and since we have the equipment we put some extra holes in the ground for the blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry bushes.

Overall the hole digging went without incident, I wish I could say the same about putting in the posts. I had a devil of a time aligning the posts and getting them plumb. I chose to just backfill most of the posts with the red clay that came out, it holds the posts really well although I did use concrete for the gate posts and the two posts supporting the 12′ span in the back of the garden (where the bees will live).

IMG_20160320_135836545_HDRThe fencing went on super quick, I built a fence stretcher (thanks to this great video) which helped reduce the effort in getting the welded wire taunt between the posts. A dozen or so galvanized 1/2″ fence staples held the welded very securely to the posts.

Attaching the horizontal 2×6 planks went very quickly (with the help of my father) and within a few hours we had the top and bottom horizontal planks attached. I really love the look of it, what do you guys think?

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Anyone wanna build a garden?

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The time has come to begin the construction of our new garden and I couldn’t be more excited. I’ve been working with a dragon’s breath propane torch to burn the grass and most importantly the insane ivy that was planted as ground cover under the trees. That stuff is nasty and nearly impossible to kill. I’ll be building the fence next, I’m doing 4×4 posts 8′ on center with 48″ welded wire fencing. I’ll eventually run an electrified wire around the top to discourage the raccoons from eating any of our veggies! Anyhow, the grass is burned and the materials for the fencing are in the back of the truck, anyone wanna help out?

 

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Our Garden Plans

Garden Planner-page-001Making the choice to spend more time and energy living your life more sustainably and reconnecting with where our food comes from is an important one and something our family feels very passionate about. It’s not for everyone and there really should be no shame placed on folks that don’t but as we continue to lay concrete on every surface of our planet we must realize that at some point, there won’t be anyplace to grow our food. Sounds silly but it’s exactly what is happening, we are dangerously dependent on massive mono-crop farms to sustain our food demands but I think anyone who educates themselves on that approach will quickly realize it’s not sustainable. Just one of the many reasons you should think about taking whatever steps you can to provide alternative food sources for your family.

So, what are we doing? Well, here is our garden plan, complete with a nice little spot for the bees. There will be some tweaks to what we plant where but the overall design is complete and I’m going to start building it this week so stay tuned as we turn this 2D drawing into reality! Should be entertaining…

Location of our future garden, notice the burned ivy and grass. Invasive ivy was planted and it's hard to kill.

Location of our future garden, notice the burned ivy and grass. Invasive ivy was planted and it’s hard to kill.

Roughing up the hives…

I’m a big fan of David Burns who is a certified master beekeeper and runs Long Lane Honeybee Farms and the nice online store www.honeybeesonline.com. He also has a really good YouTube channel where he posts all kinds of beekeeping videos, one of which struck me as odd. In this video post, he suggest roughing up the inside of your boxes to mimic the texture the bees would normally find in the wild inside trees and other potential places they may call home. The idea is that they will cover the inside walls more vigorously with propolis which helps act as an extension of their immune system. Clearly science and beekeeping have come a long way on the subject of propolis and there does appear to be some good science around the subject and it’s not like it will hurt anything. Since I have the two new hive boxes built and ready for spring, I figured I’d experiment and rough up the insides of one and see what the differences would be between the two with one roughed up and the other not. I’ll come back and update this post with my findings in a few months.

Below I’ve got some before and after shots of the inside walls of one of the supers I’ve roughed up. David Burns says he as some sort of proprietary tool which he uses for the purpose of roughing up the interior walls of the boxes, unlike David, I’ll share my super secret tool, it’s a 5″ hole saw from lowes, but honestly, you should just use whatever tools you have laying around.

Inside wall before getting roughed up.

Inside wall before getting roughed up.

Inside wall after being roughed up with a hole saw.

Inside wall after being roughed up with a hole saw.

My "open source" non-proprietary hive roughing up tool. I'm looking at you David Burns.

My “open source” non-proprietary hive roughing up tool. I’m looking at you David Burns.

Building the beehives for the homestead…

IMG_20160205_185230737The woodenware from Dadant finally arrived on Friday and I couldn’t wait to get started building all the supers for the bee hives. I chose Dadant because they honestly have some of the best woodenware out there, it was a toss-up between them and Walter Kelly but the free shipping from Dadant tipped the scales in their favor.

I had long ago decided to use only medium supers for all my hives and in this order, I got 8 medium supers, bottom boards, top covers (copper for Natalie) and frames. I opted for the unassembled because I wanted to save some money and I figured it would give me an opportunity to learn. I’ve watched nearly every video on beekeeping on YouTube so I needed to try out my new skills!

Well, as you can see from the video below, building the supers was easy, staining them was a choice Natalie and I made today, I had some trial and error but ultimately decided on a cedar-tinted wood protector and a dark walnut stain over that. It leaves the wood with a nice light brown with strong orange highlights. I quite like the look and I think it compliments the copper nicely. I also picked up a wood toolbox which you can see me testing the staining method on about mid-ways through the video.

I started building the frames today after I built the supers but only got 25 of the 50 completed. Not too shabby for a day’s work, I think.

Bees, a love affair finally realized.

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As a kid, I was deathly allergic to bees, anytime I got stung it was an immediate trip to the doctor to get treated. I was always fascinated by bees and my interest only peaked as a teenager when I got a chance to be around them through a beekeeper who went to our church. I was no longer allergic to bee strings and had learned enough to know they were one of God’s most amazing gifts to mankind. I can say I was really mesmerized by the complexity and beauty of honey bees.

I finally found my opportunity after 25 years to take a stab at being a beekeeper when Natalie decided we should start the homestead project with a garden. A garden’s best friend is pollinators, obviously, my favorite pollinator is the honeybee and with Natalie’s blessing, I began my research.

For north American beekeepers, there really are only three breeds of honey bees to choose from, Russian, Italian, and Carniolan. I opted for Italian bees because based on my research they were docile and overwintered well. Having two young kids made being more docile the single most important factor for which type we should keep. I’ll be keeping the hives behind a fence so I’m not terribly worried about the kids getting mixed up with a swarm of angry bees but I’m also not interested and pushing my luck. And as luck would have it, Walter T. Kelly, one of the nation’s most respected beekeeping supplier companies is right here in good ‘ol Kentucky, albeit two hours away from the  house.

I ordered two packages of Italian bees and I’m set to pick them up on April 23rd. I really can’t wait for that ride home!

A bench, a foundation for things to come…

IMG_20160130_162510536My garage doesn’t have a bench. Let me say that again for those who know me well know that I’ve probably built a workbench in every garage I’ve ever lived in. My garage doesn’t have a workbench! If Natalie and I were going to start this homestead journey in the spring, I had to have a trusty handy dandy workbench. I, however, wasn’t interested in leveraging one of the tried and true designs I’d built in the past, I wanted something simple and different, I wanted something movable.

My design is quite simple. It’s based off of a single 4′ x 8′ 3/4″ plywood top. I wanted to limit the cuts so I bought 4″ x 4″ x 8′ beams for the legs and 2″ x 6″ x 8′ boards for the skirt. I used standard 2″ x 4″ x 8′ boards for the framing and support. 2lbs of deck screws and 4 2″ casters and 4 hours of cutting, screwing and sweating and I had a mobile workbench that was solid as a rock and incredibly utilitarian. I love it and it’s going to get lots of use in the next few months, I’m sure of that. More pictures of the build are below.

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