Monday, August 16, 2010


A few years ago we rescued some bees from a Mennonite family we know.  They were a very young couple (in their very early 20’s perhaps).  The husband was a farmer taking up beekeeping and the wife was about 21 years old and pregnant with their second child.  One day she went outside and found her husband collapsed on the ground and blue.  Where she lives it takes 45 minutes for the ambulance to get there, so she called her neighbors for help.  One of the neighbors was pulling out his pocket knife to perform a tracheotomy on the young man when he started breathing again and came to.  It turned out that he is allergic to bees, although he hadn’t known it, and on this day he had been stung.

Needless to say, his wife was very, very upset.  The bees had to go.  So we bought the bees, hives and equipment from them for an excellent deal.  We haven’t done too much with the bees, but lucky for us God designed them to more or less take care of themselves!

Yesterday we extracted honey!  It’s a little late in the season for extracting, but here in Texas we still have several months of warm weather before it gets cold again and we left some honey in the hive to help the bees make it through winter!

By the way, this is not a post about how to extract honey.  It’s just the story of what we did.  Consider it a “don’t try this at home” post.  =)  We definitely improvised here and there!
It was 105 degrees here yesterday, so the first thing we did was set the extractor up in the living room.  The last time we extracted we did it outside, but it was a lot easier to deal with ooey gooey honey in air conditioning!

(I kept reminding Papa the Farmer that the really organized girl he dated before he met me would NEVER have allowed this in HER living room!)
Then we went out to the hives.


That metal gadget you see in Papa the Farmer’s hand is a smoker.  You stick a bunch of leaves and branches in there and burn it.  You can pump the smoke out the spout.  It is stinky and the bees think so too!  It makes them sort of drowsy and less inclined to sting big intruders in strange white clothes!

Did you know that all the bees in a beehive have different jobs?  Here is the picture of the guard bees.  Their job is to make sure no intruders get in:


Would you like to peek inside a beehive?

What you see here are called frames.  We put a thin piece of wax as a foundation and the bees build it up with hexagon cells.  They use those cells to lay eggs or store honey.  All that white you see is the cells capped in wax to hold the honey in.  Here’s a closer view:


You can see the bees really built up these cells, far past the frames:


Here’s something else that is amazing.  Bees actually build those cells at a slight angle.  If they built them perpendicular to the foundation the honey would ooze out, so they build them at a slight angle.  I tried to capture this in this photo:


All this wax makes the frames stick together, so it was some work to get the frames free!  Once we did, we brought them inside where we used a heated electric knife to melt the wax caps off the frames.

The first glimpse of honey!  Isn’t it beautiful?  To get the honey out we place the frames in the extractor.


We have a very old, manual extractor.  (But hey!  The price was right and it works!)  So we all took turns cranking, turning the frames around and cranking some more:
Our extractor only holds 4 frames, so we had to repeat this process several times.  Eventually enough honey collected for us to drain the honey out of the extractor into a 5 gallon bucket.  We strain it through two strainers (one on top of the other) as we drain to remove any imperfections (like dirt or a bee wing or something like that).

For the more inquisitive blog readers, here is a close up of what you never see:  The stuff that gets strained out!
You see?  It’s really not too bad.

With all this honey inside the house, it’s inevitable to have a bee visitor or two.  Here was our little visitor:

103-0379_IMG He was too drunk on honey to be a concern!

Speaking of drunk on honey, there is one job I have forgotten to tell you about.  As you can imagine, the honey drips everywhere in this process.  It is very important to have a way to clean it up.  Here at the Good Old Days Family Farm, we have our very own dripper-licker!
103-0374_IMG His job is to do nothing but lick up the drips and this dripper-licker happens to be exceptionally good at that!

(By the way, you should never feed honey to infants under 1 year old.  There has recently been talk of raising that age to 2 years.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Looking Towards The Future…

Ok, folks, I know it’s 100 degrees outside and really too hot to move, but if you live in North Texas, it’s time to get going on those winter gardens, if you haven’t started already!  Cooler weather is coming!
Here’s what can be planted right now:
-Brussels Sprouts
-sets of Bunching Onions
-Swiss Chard
-Chinese Cabbage
-Collard Greens
-Mustard Greens
-Shallot sets
-Irish Potatoes (plant small whole potatoes saved from the spring crop)

Here are some vegetables that do best if you plant them in July, but if you’re a risk taker you could still try planting them and just hope for a late frost!
-lima beans
-snap beans
-Southern Peas
-Pepper Transplants
-tomato transplants
You all know by now that I’m not naturally a gardener.  So how do I know this?  It’s because I have this great book:

Month-By-Month Gardening in Texas by Dale Groom & Dan Gill.  =)  There is a whole section just on vegetables and herbs.  It tells you exactly what should be doing each month depending on where in Texas you live!

Ok, so we haven’t had enough vegetables this summer to sell any.  We planted most of our vegetables about a month too late.  It couldn’t be helped this year and we keep laughing and saying how it’s too bad Papa the Farmer wasn’t laid off a month earlier!  Hopefully this winter we will have a large enough crop to share.  (If I get out there and plant something like I’m suggesting you all do!).  But, my friend Carol who runs a CSA over in Celina, Tx sent me this picture of one of her weekly shares last week:

Doesn’t that look wonderful?  Mmmm!   So fresh and beautiful!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mystery Solved!

Remember about a month ago when Papa the Farmer was working on some kind of  mystery project that was turning my pretty lawn into an eyesore?  Well, the mystery was solved.  He used those curvy, bending over poles to make:
102-0210_IMG  Tomato supports!  I’d say he’s sure being an optimist…  If the tomatoes grow that tall… well, we’ll have a lot of tomatoes!

It Never Rains but it Pours!

Perhaps that’s not the best metaphor for a farm…  Ok… I will call this post “Feast or Famine…”  No, that’s not a good title for a farm blog either.  =)

Whatever you want to call this post, I am finding that there is either nothing going on, or everything is happening at once!  Papa the Farmer wouldn’t say that.  There is always something going on for him to do…  But I’m not the farmer, I’m the farmer’s wife.  So really, I only spring in to action when there is food that needs to be prepared or preserved…

We had a reasonably good peach harvest this year, considering that it was the first year our peach trees bore fruit.  We moved to this house in 2006 and I remember that the two peach trees that were already here had a bumper crop that year.  I picked the peaches, chopped them and made peach sauce with them.  Then Papa the Farmer (in his pre-farmer life) came home from work and he and the only little Farmhand that had been born yet ate our entire winter’s supply of peaches in one weekend!  I scolded them for it but then decided, “If you can’t beat them, join them” and they were tasty!  But we haven’t gotten any peaches since.  We planted all the other fruit trees the following January and have been waiting and waiting for some peachy-goodness. 
And this year our patience was rewarded.  I wish I had taken a picture of the peaches, but I didn’t.  But I will let you in on my top secret peach-canning recipe: 

First, remove peach pits (very important step!  Trust me, I forgot once!) and place peaches in the blender:

Then, blend.  =)  (You can add a teaspoon or so of citric acid if you care about color retention.)

Doesn’t that look yummy-delicious?     Now honestly, I probably should have cooked the sauce at this point, but in my infinite wisdom I decided it would cook enough in the canner and it would be healthier (“more raw” somehow) if I didn’t cook it so I just poured it into canning jars and put them in the canner. 

Big mess.  I had some oozing and it just seemed like there was peach ooze everywhere.  It didn’t help that I had a baby farmhand helping in the kitchen!  (The official taste tester!)  But for every 7 jars that went into the canner, 6 of them sealed!  (Of course, some had to be run through the canner twice.  Hmmm… I will get better at this!)  We had just enough to enjoy some now and have a little bit all winter long!