Friday, July 25, 2014

An Even Simpler Way to Strain Honey

Yesterday I harvested honey for the second time this year, and tried a new and simpler way to strain it. I simply scrape open the comb on each side with a fork (not completely mashing it, as I'd done before), then suspend it in a gallon-sized jar in a jelly bag (seam side out, for easier cleaning, and secured with a rubber band (I used one from some broccoli I bought at the grocery store - they're nice and thick). I top it all off with a plate to keep bugs out).
I leave it in a warm place for a day or so (until it stops dripping), then pour the honey into smaller jars for storage. Since I want to save the wax, too, I take the comb out of the jelly bag and heat it in a double boiler, just until melted. Then I pour it into my silicone muffin pan and let it cool for a few hours.
(Tip: if you wipe out your double boiler pan while it's still warm, the wax will come out fairly well. Better yet, after your wax is cooled (so you can weigh it), mix up a batch of lip balm in the pan - the oils will make it much easier to wipe clean!)
Once the wax hardens, I pop it out of the muffin pan. Usually, there will be some honey on the bottom of the cavity, since not all of it dripped out during the jelly bag stage. I'll save that in a separate container for baking, since it was already heated (I like to keep the rest raw).
I generally also have a layer of pollen on the bottom of each wax piece. I simply scrape this off with a knife and freeze it (I use it as a protein supplement for my chickens in the winter).

Friday, July 11, 2014

Add Sourdough Starter to Your Pancakes

I learned recently that you can add extra sourdough starter to your pancake or waffle recipes - as much or as little as you want (although I wouldn't go more than 50%). This is a great way to use starter that's not up to full strength (either a new starter, or one you're reviving from freezing or dehydrating), or if you haven't had a chance to bake in a while and you just have too much. I made a batch of cornmeal pancakes today, with a recipe that called for 2 cups of flour (I used sprouted whole wheat) and 2 cups of cornmeal (I used masa harina) and added about 1 cup of starter (I didn't measure, I just dolloped it into the pancake batter and stirred it in). They turned out wonderfully!

I've done this with other pancake and waffle recipes, too, and they always turn out great.

Homestead Cuteness

It's been a busy spring, so I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while, but hopefully you'll forgive me because I have a ton of cute pictures to share! Here's what's been keeping us so busy:
In January, my 11 year old daughter Hannah bought two Angora rabbits from a friend of ours. They were sisters, one all white named Lily and one grey named Clover.
All was going well until April, when we got a call from the friend we'd bought them from saying that she had discovered one of the girls from that same litter had suddenly shown itself to be a boy! The litter was nearly a year old by then, so they should definitely have been easily recognizable much earlier. Just to be sure, our friend came over and checked Hannah's bunnies, and gave us the all-clear. They were still both girls.

A week or so later, I checked again, just to be sure. I'd never sexed a rabbit before, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to check, and there, even to my inexperienced eye, were definite male parts. Lily was actually Lyle!

Thus began Clover Watch 2014. Was she pregnant? Was she getting cranky from hormones, or was it just spring fever? Was that nest-building, or just moving stuff around? How many days was it since we separated them? What's the gestation period for a rabbit, again?

Hannah did the math, and wrote on the calender, "If Clover doesn't kindle by now, she's not pregnant." Apparently we need to work on her math skills, because a week later, on May 20th, we found 8 baby bunnies in the nest box! Two were stillborn, but the 6 remaining bunnies were big and healthy.

Those babies are almost 7 weeks old now, and so unbelievably cute!
But wait - there's more. This all started because my 13 year old son Sam wanted to raise meat rabbits. My husband and I had promised him on his birthday in October that we would get him set up with his first set of rabbits, feed, and cages. After some discussion, however, we all agreed it would be best to wait until spring, so we could start breeding them right away.

In mid-May, my sister-in-law found a New Zealand buck for sale and bought him for us. We picked him up and brought him home, and Sam promptly named him Paul Furgussen Fluff.
Sam and Paul
Paul is a great rabbit - very calm and even tempered (he just sniffed at our dog when she came up to check him out, and doesn't mind when Sam picks him up and plays with him). He's also a big boy - 10 pounds at least.

But a buck isn't much good without a doe, so we went on the hunt for a couple of girl rabbits to bring home for him. We found a Craigslist ad for some Californian does about an hour from our house, and the price was right, so we bought them. And so Asher and Bunny joined our little farm (Sam wanted his rabbits named after the great Sumerian king, Ashurbanipal, thus Asher, Bunny, and Paul - get it? I love my homeschooled geeks!)
The woman we bought the does from said that they had already be exposed to a buck (her own New Zealand), so they might actually be pregnant already. Double score! If they were, we could keep a doeling from each of those litters and have 4 breeding does without worrying about inbreeding. Sam's Rabbit Ranch was off and running!

Sure enough, last week Bunny kindled, and Sam had his first litter of 10 baby bunnies. No signs yet if Asher is pregnant (there's a week left in her possible gestation period), so we'll just have to wait and see.

But bunnies aren't the only cute babies running around the yard - we also had a very successful hatch in our incubator this spring, so we have 33 mixed-breed chicks just starting to feather out:
This picture is from the day they hatched, so it's a little out of date
And our order of 100 Cornish Cross chicks arrived at the post office on Wednesday:

And to top it all off, we brought home two new kittens on Sunday:
Hazel and Chestnut
This may be the cutest summer ever!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Honey harvest!

I started my bee check this afternoon by looking through the plastic window on the side of my Kenyan-style top bar hive. I was glad I did - the girls had drawn comb on all but one of the bars! I ran back to the house to grab a pot for the honey comb I intended to harvest, and then got to work. I started in the back, figuring that would be where the honey was, with the brood closer to the front. It didn't take me long to figure out I had that backwards! The back combs had almost no honey and lots of brood. So I checked the front frames, and found all honey with no brood! Score!
Unfortunately, the girls were drawing down their comb crooked, so I ended up breaking some comb, but I cleaned up my mess and it worked out fine. I harvested about 7 frames before I found brood and stopped there. That means the hive is still about 2/3 full of in-use comb; I'll have to keep an eye on it to make sure they don't fill up again and swarm.

In the Warre hive, the prospect wasn't so cheerful. When I lifted off the quilt, I saw only the same few frames of drawn comb that had been there when I checked the hive at the end of May. There were plenty of bees for that amount of comb, but not nearly what there should have been at this time of year. I'm worried that this whole hive may end up being a loss. I have no idea why one is thriving while the other is struggling; last year it was the other way around! I just don't know what to make of it.

For now, I'll just leave the Warre alone and hope it rebounds. My best guess is that they re-queened at the end of May (when I saw the queen cells) and are just starting to build their numbers back up. If there weren't a queen at all, there would be no bees left by now, so at least I can rest easy on that score.

I never thought raising bees would add so much drama and suspense to my life! Who needs to watch soap operas? Ha!