Archive for February, 2011

What’s the Buzz? A Give-Away!

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Bernie and I had six hives of honey bees a few years ago. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may remember I set up a separate website for our bees. We loved our bees! And they blessed us with entertainment and honey.

We ended up losing the hives, and in hindsight, we probably should have waited to get them until we were permanently on the homestead. And we should have started on a much smaller scale. It was a hard lesson, and now that we’ve been here for three years, we’re ready to start again. I think we’re a little wiser, a little smarter, and a lot more prepared. We have two nukes on order now with a local source, and should have them in the next couple of months.

So I was tickled when Megan, from Sterling Publishing Company, contacted me asking if I’d be interested in reviewing Keeping Bees, by Ashley English.

Ashley English,Keeping Bees

Ashley has a wonderful blog that I highly recommend. And, as I’ve learned through her blog and her book, Ashley knows bees!

This book is chocked full of good information. Information I wish we had when we first started with honey bees. Keeping Bees is a “must have” resource for anyone just starting out, or considering becoming a beekeeper, and a wonderful reference book for more seasoned bee keepers. It provides everything from an in-dept description of bee anatomy, hive hierarchy, and things to consider before getting honey bees to the different types of hives, choosing the right type of honey bee, and installing a package of bees (a complete pictorial guide!). Ashley describes essential equipment, complete with pictures. I love her step by step pictorial of bee hive inspection and a “year of bees” guide for what should be accomplished in each season. She also details common diseases, parasites, and pests of bee hives and offers advice for avoiding these things. Along with recipes for homemade Sugar Fondant and Pollen Cakes for your hive.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, in Keeping Bees, Ashley also provides a pictorial guide on exactly how to gather the honey frames and extract the honey, along with delicious recipes for infused honey and all sorts of yummy foods.

I love this book! And I’m pleased to tell you that Megan and Ashley have graciously offered a give-away. The winner will not only receive a Keeping Bees book of your very own, but a jar of local honey!

To enter the give-away all you need to do is leave a comment on this blog and let me know you love honey bees! That’s it. Just do this before Wednesday, March 2nd, at midnight and you are entered. I will put each of your names on a slip of paper and have Bernie draw one of them on Thursday, March 3rd. Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you if you win!

That’s the buzz. Oh, and please pop on over to Small Measure and see what Ashley’s sharing today 🙂

The small print: This offer is only valid for U.S., APO, and FPO mailing addresses.

UPDATE 03/03/2011: We have a winner!!! Congratulations Dee for winning the random drawing for Keeping Bees!

Thanks to everyone who commented and signed up for this give-away.

Greenhouse in a Greenhouse

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

I really love my greenhouse. I’ve checked the temperature in there when the temperature has been in the 20’s outside and found it was a toasty 98 degrees in there. It’s done a great job of keeping potted plants alive through the last two winters with nothing more than a few jugs of water painted black and tucked in between the pots.

One drawback to the greenhouse is that it still gets very cold in there at night. It will, in fact, reach the same low temperature as the outside temperature. The gravel floor and jugs of water hold enough heat to keep my plants from freezing, but those are not ideal conditions for starting seeds.

This year we’re doing a couple of things differently that I think will allow me to start my seeds much earlier and easier. Last spring I had an email conversation with Lisa over at Sassy Cat Hill about her greenhouse, and she told me she uses a thermostatically controlled propane heater. Bernie and I found one, and he installed it for me. That will be a huge help in keeping the soil warm when starting seeds.

And today he built me a little greenhouse to put over the tray that will hold my starting pots.

lttle greenhouse

It’s a very simple design, and it should work perfectly. It will slide right over my tray of starting pots.

lttle greenhouse

He covered it completely in plastic.

lttle greenhouse

It should help keep the soil moist and (with the help of the heater) warm during the cold nights. I have another tray and he’s going to build me another mini greenhouse for it.

I’ve had all my seeds for this year’s garden ready to go for over a month. I am just itching to play in the dirt. In the next couple of weeks I hope to get some of the spring plants started.

I really love my greenhouse in a greenhouse!

Whole Lot of Fermenting Going On

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

I’ve started several projects the past couple of months and wanted to share the progress of a couple of them with you.

Remember the buttermilk sourdough starter I started? It has made some of the nicest sourdough bread. I’ve stopped feeding it with buttermilk, unless I’m making a plain sourdough bread. Cristy, one of my Facebook friends tempted me with her yeast bread made with cheddar cheese, onion, and jalapeno, so I decided to add add some cheese and onion to a sourdough loaf and see how it did. We love it. Since the buttermilk flavor is lost, I just feed the sourdough with water and flour when I make it.

These loaves are sourdough with white cheddar and onion mixed in. This is Bernie’s favorite.

sourdough onion cheddar cheese

I use the King Arthur Rustic Sourdough recipe, and add about 16 ounces of cheddar and a large onion chopped up. It’s really tasty.

sourdough onion cheddar cheese

You may remember I started some vinegar a while ago. The white wine vinegar mother was dead and never did anything, but the apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and malt vinegar mothers have done great. I bottled a liter of the apple cider vinegar a couple of weeks ago, and today I bottled a liter of the malt vinegar.

Here are some pictures of the vinegars with the mothers in them:

red wine vinegar

The above is the red wine vinegar. If you looks closely you can see what looks like white disks floating in it. Those are mothers. Each week I add a little more red wine, and the current mother floats to the bottom. A new mother will grow on top.

cider vinegar

The above is the apple cider vinegar. You can see the mother on the top. Although this vinegar is arguably the very ugliest, it is by far the tastiest, in my opinion. I really love the apple cider vinegar.

malt vinegar

That one is the malt vinegar. You can see all the mothers laying on the bottom, and the most recent floating down. I strained and bottled a liter of this one today. Her’s how the batch I strained looked:

malt vinegar

And here are the bottles of apple cider vinegar and malt vinegar, all strained and ready to use:


One of my blog friends, Cherie, peaked my interest in Kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea and it is chock full of probiotics, antioxidants, and organic acids. I watched a youtube video on how to start your own Kombucha. It seemed easy enough. I bought a bottle of GT’s Organic Raw Kombucha, with the scoby in the bottom and then I brewed a batch of tea with 3 green tea bags, 5 black tea bags, and a cup of sugar. After it cooled, I filled a glass gallon jar with the tea and the Kombucha with the scoby. I covered it with a cheese cloth and put it on top of the freezer. Today I checked it and the scoby is forming nicely on top of it.

kombucha scoby

I’ll be honest – the jury is out on whether or not I’m going to like this stuff enough to drink it daily. I bought an extra bottle to drink when I got the bottle to start mine, and I wasn’t really crazy about the taste. But, in all fairness, it was flavored with ginger, and I’m hoping it was the ginger that I didn’t care for. I guess I’ll find out within the next few days…….

Do you make your own vinegars? Or Kombucha? Do you have a sourdough starter going? I’d love to hear what you’re doing to help get through the winter.