Overwintering Honey Bees in Alaska

My husband took over most all of bee care this summer. This included overwintering. I offered encouragement (yeah, let’s overwinter them!) and suggestions (you sure that is a good idea?) here and there but the actual physical side of it was all him. In my defense, I have a bad back, and those hives are HEAVY. We have a FB farm page that my husband posted about overwintering the bees which I’ll share here.


Sure, Let’s winter the bees! How hard can it be with only two steps to the process; Step 1: Have bees Step 2: Winter the bees? I mean really what else is there?
Nevermind…I may need to clarify all the steps.
Step 1A: wait until the bee boxes weigh more than a baby giraffe to move.
Step 1B: Carry said boxes down the power line to your pick up while being stung through the suit…30-40 stings should be enough. Make sure several bees get inside your suit and find your ear and neck.
Step 1C: Drive the truck around the property to the unfinished chicken coop, but make sure the clutch goes out first.
Step 1D: Dolly the stinging mess into the coop.


Step 1E: Forget to completely empty the sugar water containers in the hive. Almost empty is just as good, right?

sugarwater
Step 1F: Spill the sugar water all over the floor. Slip and fall then slip and fall again as you try to get up
Step 1G: Start laughing as you remember the scene from “Old School” with Will Ferrell. Giggle “you’re my boy Blue” as you continued to get stung while covered in heavy sugar syrup.
Step 2: Insulate and winter bees.

insulated
Step 2A: Sit on the couch and watch “Old School” while high on Benedryl.
Simple as that and only two easy steps!!!

OldSchool.jpg

Advertisements

Winter on the Farm

After a week of freezing rain, we finally have snow. Not a lot but a start. Temperatures continue to hover around freezing which is perfect for a romp in the snow.

img_6290

The dogs and I are not the only ones that like to romp.

img_6301img_6303

The duck coop still overflows with chickens. About three weeks ago, our freezer failed. Luckily, it was discovered before we lost all of our moose, fish, and poultry. Our meat is now secure over at my in-laws as we wait for our new freezer to arrive. We finally managed to get it ordered yesterday, and it won’t be in till we get back from Germany in December. That leaves 17 chickens and no freezer. Plus the energy and enthusiasm we had at the start of the summer in regards to meat birds have faded with the summer. These lucky 17 are now layers. Shane is quickly finishing the partially done chicken coop, so they have a home for the winter. The duck coop merely is too small for everyone all winter long. The bees were moved in the un-finished chicken coop over a month ago (I’ll share that story in another post) so Shane has also been chicken proofing the beehive. They should keep each other warm though. And man, these chickens are earning their keep!

img_6299

The garden is long gone, I have my little spot of green inside. We have been enjoying all the pickles and dehydrated veggies we put up. Dehydrated kale is amazing! We have been using it in omelets (go figure), stews, and stir-frys. Works great and doesn’t take up any freezer space (which is great because we don’t have a freezer). We have a few pepper plants that I dragged inside still going. I’ve started a small herb garden. We fed the last of the tomato plants that were inside to the birds this weekend.

 

 

Stockpiling for Winter

The leaves are turning yellow already. The birds are making their pit stop in Fairbanks as they head south. I’ve had my first cold of the fall. Yes, it is Fall in the Interior of Alaska, and I’m freaking out. We are not ready! Though, we never are ready.

We’ve been busy preparing for winter by putting up food. Stocking up on summer yummies so we can enjoy it when the snow blankets the ground. We are pickle kind of people. In the past few weeks, I’ve made pickled beets, pickled cauliflower, and pickled zucchini. This weekend, pickled carrots, pickled green tomatoes, and more pickled beets. Also, freezing and dehydrating kale for use late this winter.

 

I’ve also been out picking this blogs namesake, Alaskan blueberries. Smaller and tarter than the cultivated varieties that most are used to. The picking was slim this year but happy to have some in the freezer. Even have some blueberry-basil vinegar brewing right now.

IMG_5986

A few weeks ago, we raided our hives. A bit earlier than normal but we wanted to give the bees time to stock up on honey for winter. We want to attempt to overwinter them. We shall see how it goes since even 400 miles south of us (where we plan on overwintering them), winter is still long and cold. We got 3.5 gallons of honey which may seem like a lot but still doesn’t feel like enough when we plan to use it in place of sugar and would like to give some as gifts. I think we may have to get a 3rd hive next year.

 

A hawk was loitering by the coop this morning so no one will be free-ranging today or tomorrow. It appears that everyone out here wants to eat our birds which reminded us that we need to get them processed before someone else eats them. The ducklings are now rowdy teenagers, the drakes have got to go. The roosters are attempting to cock-a-doodle-doo. That is the next big to-do in our preparation for winter. It is a bummer because I have been enjoying our fresh veggies out of the garden. Dinners have been splendid lately.

IMG_6039

Permaculture.

I had heard of permaculture but had no idea what it meant until I read an article about it in Mother Earth News this summer. Turns out, I’ve been accidentally practicing permaculture for years!

Permaculture is the development of an agricultural ecosystem that uses less energy and resources and is self-sufficient and sustainable. In my mind, who wouldn’t do that? I have called it lazy, cheap, and resourceful farming/living but permaculture sounds more like you know what you are doing. Yeah, sure I planned all of this.

I collect rain water because it is free compared to the $0.08 a gallon I pay to have it delivered since we don’t have a well. However, merely collecting rainwater doesn’t make an ecosystem.

The rainwater is used to fill the duck ponds, duck water, and water the garden. The duck pond is also a substantial dog water dish (ewww), and for the puppy, the best way to drink out of it is standing in it (double eww). They have a plenty of dog dishes, but the ponds are their favorite. The pond water is used to water our Arctic cherry tree. According to the tag, it should start to producing cherries here soon. I highly doubt it, but I’m holding out hope. A grill that is no longer able to grill is now a goose-proof flower bed (tall enough the goose cannot reach to eat all of my flowers).

IMG_5719

The garden is used to feed us and the birds, saving us money both in buying the produce and duck feed but also gas by not having to go to the grocery store. The ducks and chickens maintain the weeds and keep the mosquito populations in check – they free range when we are home. We eat the duck eggs and the drakes. We’d love to keep them all as pets, but too many males disrupt the peace in our ecosystem. The chickens are for meat this year, but we plan on overwintering a few next year with the hopes that they’ll make more chickens the following year, so we no longer have to buy chickens. The birds also provide hours of entertainment. I never get tired of watching them.

One of the ideas of permaculture that this ecosystem supplies everything one would need “including entertainment to fuel”. Trees cleared for the house were used to heat our home. Much more affordable than heating oil though we use that too since winters here are long and oh so cold plus I like my house at 70 to 80. I can’t bring myself to set the thermostat higher than 60 though (oh so cheap), so the woodstove makes the house comfortable to live in. The trees we cleared last summer to expand our garden are going to heat our home.

The excess garden gets frozen or canned. Garden tidbits like stalks, roots, and such gets fed to the birds, this year made into stock or composted. I’m an oh so lazy composter and do the slow compost method which does cause a fly issue. BUT the chickens love hanging out by the compost to eat the maggots – gross, I know but PERMACULTURE! Shane just shakes his head and walks away when I say that to farm grossness. Like the dogs licking duck shit off the pavement. PERMACULTURE!

In the garden the last two summers, I have increased the number of flowers we have since we now have honey bees. Plus I hate having to hand pollinate, so I wanted to encourage my bees to make the trek up to the house. I love the increased color and watching our bees pollinate all of my plants. We eat the tomatoes and raspberries that our bees pollinated and honey they stored away. Also, notice that I used birch trees for part of the posts to make our garden fence.

FullSizeRender 34.jpg

Part of permaculture is still retaining native plants and animals. Squirrels surround us in the woods. In the spring (when the cat refuses to go outside due to snow) we have bird feeders which also feed local moose (ugh). Occasionally, the neighborhood fox makes off with one of our birds, double ugh but part of living in the woods. Our bees take advantage of all the wild roses and wild raspberries. We enjoy both. Most of our lot is still heavily forested providing both shade and a buffer from the road.

Feed bags become weed control in the garden path. Dog food bags become trash bag liners. Wood crates scavenged from work became a chicken coop. An old dog run wrapped in plastic is our greenhouse. Boxes from a CSA have become drawers in our entry way. Old clothes become patches and rags. New sheets for us are old ones retired from the vacation rental. They’ll eventually become painting dropcloths or dog blankets. Old milk crates organize the back of my car, are cubby shelves in the garage, a seat for weeding in the garden, my office standing desk is made of them and old shelves, they are the perfect size for a small propane tank, and two milk crates and a 2×4 makes an excellent chicken roost. Uses for old towels are endless.

My husband calls me Half-Penny Hildebrandt [my maiden name] since I’m always looking for ways to stretch a penny or use what we have around the house. I guess my new name should be Permaculture Powers [married name].

Shane shakes his head and walks away. I triumphantly yell PERMACULTURE!

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 2.03.25 PM.png

 

 

 

Seasons Done Right.

Alaska does nothing half-ass. Fall is crisp, golden, brief, and foreboding. Winter is dark, cold, snowy, and pure magic. Spring is slushy, muddy, and full promise. Summer is hot but not too hot, the sun refuses to sleep, and it is simply splendid. The people soak up the sun as much as the plants do. We all thrive and push ourselves to exhaustion, knowing we will all get to hibernate here soon.

FullSizeRender 24.jpg

The other day as I stood in the kitchen watching the big puppy splash in the duck pool while an annoyed flock of birds watched her antics and admiring my flowers, it hit me that it was the end of July. Where has summer gone? Then I thought of winter and snow and -40, then I went outside to lay in the hammock to soak in as much summer as I could before the snow flies. Yeah, I know I got a few more month before that happens but it will zoom on by as June and July have. Before I blink it will be January and I’ll be dreaming of summer.

22 jars of radishes on the wall

While grocery shopping this past week, I noticed they were having a screaming deal on radishes but didn’t have many in stock (maybe 2 bunches). I mentioned this to Shane as our radishes in our garden do okay but not enough to make radish pickles. They are excellent on sandwiches, but we haven’t made any for about two years.

I get home Wednesday to find that they had restocked them and that my husband bought 22 lbs. of them (weight post stem removal). I guess he has been jonesing for some radish pickles. He said he bought some, then decided we needed more so went back for a second batch. Then when getting beer, he decided we needed even more.

IMG_5534.JPG

I scrubbed and trimmed while he worked the mandolin. They then got to soak overnight in brine. A few we set aside to make radish kimchi. That evening I made three large jars of the kimchi.

The next night, Shane simmered the radishes in the vinegar seasoning. It took three large pots to hold them all. I hot packed the jars, and Shane got them in the water bath. By the end of it, we had 22 pints of pickled radishes. Thus this begins Summer 2017 Canning Palooza!

FullSizeRender 17

Mid-Summer Aspirations

It is mostly in the summer when I have moments where I think that I would love to learn or do X, Y, or Z. Then the ducks are out of water, the dogs need dinner, and the garden weeded. Inspired by EcoFeminst, I thought I ought to start recording my homesteading goals so I can remember them. And perhaps one day accomplish them.

–> Perfect bread making. I can make basic bread, but I’d like to expand and get quick at it so we can stop buying store bought bread.

–> Learn how to mill our own flour.

–> Make our own vinegars.

–> Make vegetable, duck, and chicken stock from our garden and birds.

–> Get over my fear of the pressure canner so I can stock and beans. I may need to con my mom in helping me since she has done more of it then I have.

–> Dry my own herbs.

–> Grow herbs and greens year-round inside in Alaska! I’m going to even drag in a few of my tomato plants inside this fall to see how long I can keep them.

–> Overwinter our bees. Not an easy feat when you have -40F winters. Our current plan is to drive our bees 5 hours south of Fairbanks and put them in my parent’s old trappers cabin. The look on my mom’s face when I told her our plan was priceless. It was that or in her crawlspace at her home. 😉

–> Expand the garden, so we have enough to can and put away for winter. We pretty much eat as we harvest. I plant more, and we simply eat more. I need enough where we cannot out eat it.

–> Save seeds. This year I planted everything from seed. I’d like to eventually not even need to buy seeds but baby steps.

I’m sure I’ll think of more as I go. As for now, I have some rhubarb that I harvested that needs to be made into jam! Blueberry rhubarb jam, peach rhubarb jam, and salmonberry rhubarb jam, plus watermelon rind pickles are on the agenda today.

FullSizeRender 16