A local group of Girl Scouts, working on their Gold Award, came out to the farm today to learn about sustainable farming and all that it takes to make small farms like ours viable.
We started off in the garlic patch, digging up the last of the garlic we'll harvest this Summer.
And dig they did. (Really, it was just our way of getting them to do our work for us!) I think they will never look at a simple piece of garlic bread the same way again.
Next, we moved on to digging potatoes. First, Michael showed them the beautiful purple potatoes we've been harveting this season.
Then he introduced them to the shovel and they got to digging.
They seemed pretty happy with their haul.
All that digging created some hungry Girl Scouts, so we stopped at the apple trees for a snack.
And the blackberry bushes for another snack.
Then it was of to the hives to learn about honey and beekeeping.
First, Michael smoked the hives to confuse the bees and make it easier to pull the frames from the hive. Smoke masks the bee's alarm pheromones giving the beekeeper time to work the hives.
He showed the girls the capped honey cells and explained what is involved in removing the honey from the frames.
We're not sure if they were horrified or just scared to death of the bees.
We thought it would be a good time to move on to our good will ambassadors, the goats.
What's not to love about a goat.
They are really just taller dogs. With horns.
And an insatiable appetite for anything in the grain bucket. Or anywhere else.
And no visit to the farm is complete without at least one picture of the chickens.
Everybody loves a chicken. They are the gateway farm animal. You start with a few chickens. Move on to bees. And before you know, you've got yourself some alpacas, sheep and goats.
After touring the farm and discovering what is involved in the production of their food, the girls were off to a local restaurant that makes a point of using food grown at small, local farms.
And while I don't think there were any future farmers in this group, I do think they have a better understanding of the food they eat and how it is grown.
Rain, rain, rain. Last year we prayed for it.
This Spring we begged it to stop.
It listened . . . for a short time. Then it started up again and appears it will never stop.
Our fields are saturated and we have an added bonus -- standing water.
All this water means we've lost a lot of plants, but there is a bright side.
The potatoes are doing well and we harvested our first crop of young, tender potatoes for this week's CSA.
The beets are happy too.
And Marilyn's killer, giant pumpkins are doing o.k., too.
The lavender is beginning to bloom.
And, because of all the rain keeping us out of the fields, we have time to infuse some of our Spring honey with this beautiful lavender to make a delicious and delicately flavored lavender honey.
The lavender adds an unusual flavor to the honey and is fabulous in tea or spread on toast.
The flavors need to meld a bit longer and then it will be for sale on our Etsy site and at the farm store. We are also making cinnamon and vanilla infused honey.
There is a 40 percent chance of rain forecast every day for the upcoming week, but we are going to look on the bright side. That leaves us a 60 percent chance of no rain. (I'm really good at complicated math problems like this; can't you tell?)
We're not even asking for sunshine in our 60 percent.
Just no more rain please.
About a month ago, we added 12 new hives to the bee yard. Then earlier in the week, Michael captured a swarm from a friend's hives.
That's a whole lotta new hives that have to be checked on and today was the day.
The weather was calm and warm -- bees don't like to be disturbed when its too cold, too hot, or too windy.
We started by depositing new "deeps" and "supers" near the hives.
Each hive is started with a deep, which is one box with 10 frames inside.
When the bees fill this box, another deep is added on top of the first. Then the bees fill this box. The honey in both of these boxes are considered to be the bees. We do not harvest it. This is their food source. Only after they fill these two boxes can we add "supers" on top of the two deeps and it is from these supers that we harvest honey. We won't harvest honey from these new hives until Fall.
Confused yet? There is a really good explanation (with pictures!) here if you are interested in the ins-and-outs of beekeeping.
This is a honey super with 10 frames. I've pulled one of the frames out so you can see what a frame looks like before the bees start building comb on them and then filling that comb with honey. The "comb" you see here is a starting point for the bees. They build their own comb on top of this board.
When Michael captured the swarm, he left one of the frames out of the super to give himself room to dump the swarm.
The bees took advantage of that room and decided to build their own comb, which they attached to the roof of the hive.
They built this beautiful wax structure in less than a week. I'd say they were pretty industrious.
But we decided to take this wax comb off the lid of the box and have them continue to build on the frames.
So he inserted the tenth frame back into the super so the bees could build it out.
After that, it was time to put the top back on the hive and let the bees continue their daily chores of collecting pollen, building comb and making honey.
This was all done under the watchful eye of Moose. But you'll notice his watchful eye isn't getting too close. He's been stung once or twice in the past and now keeps a safe distance from all the hives, and he can take refuge in my car if he needs to. Smart dog.
Tomorrow, if the weather holds, we will harvest a bit of Spring honey from our original five hives.
The bees in these hives have had the advantage of time and are further along in their honey making job than those in the the new hives.
Spring honey has a lightness of flavor that is strikingly different than fall honey. Can't wait to get our first taste tomorrow.
The new bees arrived today.
Lots of them. More bees than you would ever want to see in one place at the same time.
As of this morning, we had five established hives of Italian honey bees.
Each hive produces, on average, about 50 pounds of honey per year. We found that demand for our honey far exceeded our supply so we decided to add a few more hives.
O.K., maybe a few more than a few.
Today, we added 12 more hives to the beeyard, giving us a grand total of 17 hives.
Bees are purchased in packages of about 10,000 bees, along with one queen.
The queen is inside the cage, in the can suspended from the top of the cage. She is protected because the colony has not yet accepted her as their queen. They have to get used to her before she can rule the hive.
This is the queen cage that is tucked safely inside that metal canister. At the bottom of the cage is a piece of candy we have to insert before we hang the queen in the hive.
After the queen cage is attached inside the hive, we can dump the package of 10,000 bees inside.
The bees are attracted to the queen's pheromones and they begin to eat the piece of candy at the bottom of the queen cage to release the queen. By the time they finish the candy and the queen is free to leave the hive, the bees have accepted her as their queen and all is well and good within the hive.
That's the queen cage, attached to a leaf, hanging from one of the frames, and the newly released bees at the bottom of the hive.
Each hive has its own queen. The bees in this hive will stay specific to this hive. In other words, bees from hive one will never enter hive two or three or whatever. They would either be chased away or killed by the guard bees of that hive. Once a bee of colony number one, always a bee of that colony. They do not mingle.
The queen is busy all season long laying eggs. At the height of the honey producing season, each hive will have about 50,000 to 60,000 bees.
We will let the hives settle down for a few days before we open them up to see if they are accepting their queen.
We're hoping to get a small bit of Spring honey from our five established hives sometime in June and then by Fall, we should have 17 hives of raw, wildflower honey.
March arrives on Friday and we are beginning to turn our attention to all things Spring -- planting peas, lettuce, spinach, onions, potatoes and kale, and to all things bee related.
Each season, we fluctuate between four and six hives. You can lose a hive for many reasons: a weak queen, disease, swarming, weather. Honey is like any of the other "crops" we grow -- it must be monitored and managed for maximum harvest, but some things are, ultimately, out of your control.
2012 was a good honey year for us and are just about at the end of our supply of honey for sale.
But the bees will soon be out and about, starting to make more honey and we are hoping for a great Spring harvest.
Spring honey is as light and fresh as Spring itself. It is full of the taste of apple and crabapple bloosoms, clover and all the flowers that are blooming in the Spring. It has a totally different taste than Fall honey, which is richer, more full bodied and, I think, herb-ier. Both are delicious, but as different as night and day.
This year, we will be adding at least two more hives because we would like to start producing comb and chunk honey, as well as a bit of infused honey.
Comb honey is straight from the hive and contains pure honey along with the wax combs or casing made by the bees. This waxy comb has been called nature's chewing gum.
Chunk honey is a bit of the comb cut out of the frame, surrounded by extracted honey. It is the best of both worlds.
Comb and chunk honey are a little more difficult to produce than extracted honey and require special frames. We will be using a framing system called Ross Rounds to produce our comb honey.
Both the comb and the chunk honey should be available by the end of Summer.
We will also be trying herb infused honey.
Honey from our hives will be extracted and then steeped with a variety of our own organically grown herbs, such as lavender, mint, chamomile and rosemary. Infused honeys are delicious with different cheeses and fruit, especially figs.
So on this bright and sunny late Winter day, we are thinking about the flavors of Spring and looking forward to enjoying our first comb honey harvest.
Yesterday, a new beekeeper was born.
Veteran beekeepers Fred, Michael and Mike are showing new beekeeper Joe the ins and outs of honey harveting. You'll note they make sure Joe is doing the heavy hauling while they are casually strolling out to the bee yard. Smart beekeepers. Make the new guy do the heavy stuff.
Fred smokes the hive while Joe prepares for frame inspection.
Then it's Joe's turn to smoke 'em while Michael pulls the frames out.
Lots of bees making lots of honey.
Once they've chosen the frams they want, the guys bring them into the storage barn for honey extraction. The farm is a proud new owner of an electric honey extractor -- which means no more long hours of hand cranking.
Give us a day or two to bottle up the day's harvest, and we will once again have farm-fresh, raw wildflower honey for sale.
And congrats to Joe. Now that you've learned a bit about bees, we see a hive in your future.
It's a beautiful day on the farm. Sunny. 75 degrees. No wind. And it's only March 17th. Today should be filled with slushy snow showers and howling wind. At least that's how I remember the St. Patrick's days of my youth.
The chickens are happy.
They have worms to discuss and gardens to explore.
It was a great day to get more hay and throw it up in the loft. Notice that that is not me climbing into the loft. I leave that for the real farmer-types.
It was a great day to check on the garlic. It's a little further along than expected, but that has to do with the nice, warm weather were having.
We thought earlier in the year we had lost it to soggy ground, but we are quite happy to discover that is not the case.
It was a day to check on the bee hives. Mike, Michael and Fred (not the goat Fred, the human Fred, after whom the goat is named) made the long, soggy trek to the hives.
Moose did too, but he stopped along the way to play. Ball. Ball. Ball. Ball.
Hive inspection took a good hour or more, starting with a good smoking.
Most bees are present and accounted for. We did loose one hive over the Winter and will need to replace it soon.
This hive is quite active and making brood -- that is a very good thing.
The daffodils are getting ready to bloom.
The paths are greening up.
And all is right with the world.
Today was an ugly day in Northern Ohio. Just a tad too warm to snow, yet the sky was spitting something like rain/snow/sleet/mess.
It was certainly not a day to hang out in the fields or with the goats and alpacas. They were smart enough to be in shelter, trying to ignore the gunk coming down from the sky.
But it was a good day to make creamed honey.
(picture from Indiana Honey Farm website)
Creamed honey is honey that has crystalized. Now all honey will crystalize and become a grainy creamed honey, but it will most likely not crystalize into small, smooth crystals. So we have to help it along.
First, I heated 10 pounds of our raw, wildflower honey, harvested this fall.
Heating the honey makes it smooth, with fine crystals. Next, I added 1 pound of starter.
Starter is creamed honey. Our honey, as it cools, will mimic the smaller crystals of the creamed honey, thus giving us a smooth, spreadable oh-so-good creamed honey. At this point, I could have added cinnamon, or gingerbread spices, or any number of other flavorings.
But we like just plain creamed honey. On pancakes, over ice cream, on toast, straight out of the jar -- the possibilities are endless.
Now it has to cool. I covered the bucket and put it out on our back porch for a semi-rapid cool down. Tomorrow, I will stir the honey a bit and let it sit another day to begin crystalizing.
Then, while it is still pourable, it will be time to bottle it up.
The jars are washed and ready to go. Labels are printed. The sticky, sticky floor is once again sticky-free and all is right with the world.
I guess I should embrace rain/snow/sleet/mess days. I get a lot done.
As many of you know, in addition to being fiber and produce farmers, we at That'll Do Farm are also beekeepers.
We have six hives of Italian honey bees that help pollinate many of the crops we grow. We've been happy with the pollination rate and believe we have higher crop yields, all thanks to our hard working bees.
And one of the benefits of keeping bees is the honey they produce.
Pure, raw wildflower honey. It tastes like a sunny, warm spring day on the farm. And that's a good thing.
But not all honey is created equal. Customers sometimes question the price of our honey and tell us they can buy honey much cheaper at their local WalMart or grocery store.
And the truth is, they can.
But what are they really buying? According to a study by Food Safety News, they are not buying honey. Most of the big box stores and other retailers are selling honey that doesn't actually contain the main ingredient that makes honey honey -- and that is pollen.
Professor Vaughn Bryant of Texas A&M, an expert on pollen, said that once you take the pollen out, the only thing you've got is sugar. "The pollen does in fact contain amino acids, it contains starches, it also contains fats and vitamins and various kinds of minerals. A lot of people eat honey because of the nutritional value."
True raw honey from your local beekeeper is minimally processed. The frames are removed from the hive, a warm uncapping knive is used to open up the individual cells and then the frames are put into an extractor that spins them quite quickly, thus forcing the honey out.
The honey is then strained to remove wax and any debris, but not strained finely enough to remove the pollen.
Then it is bottled up, labeled and ready for market. Nothing like sugar, food coloring, or corn syrup is ever added.
Honey from local sources will crystalize over time. But that does not affect the taste or quality of the honey. If you don't like crystalized honey, simply simmer a pan of water on the stove, place your jar in the water and turn the water off. The warmth of the water will quickly restore your honey to its slow, flowing form.
If you are a honey lover, I urge you to go out and visit your local beekeeper. Tour the beeyard. Ask lots of questions. Every beekeeper I know loves to talk about their hives and their honey.
Knowing your beekeeper, like knowing your produce farmer or meat farmer, is the best way to assure the highest quality of food reaches your table.
This past weekend was the Ohio Natural Fiber Network Fall Farm Tour. We spent the week before worrying about the weather and now nobody can tell me that a healthy dose of worry doesn't pay off. We had two beautiful fall days for enjoying the farm and friends, both old and new.
Visitors came out to meet the alpacas.
And the alpacas took the opportunity to stare back at the visitors. Not sure who won the stare-off. Both humans and animals were adept at this technique.
At one point during the weekend, we had a parking issue,
but not to worry. We found spots for all the visitors and life was good again.
We had knitters knitting inside and when the sun came out, we had knitters knitting outside. You've got to love knitters who travel with their own chairs!
We harvested this fall's honey.
We're quite proud of our bees this year. They did such a good job. You go girls!
We harvested goldenrod, which we used for dyeing wool. There is certainly no shortage of goldenrod in the back fields and woods. We could color the entire world yellow with the amount of goldenrod we have.
We demonstrated how to dye fiber with natural plant materials.
Our two choices for the demo were red cabbage and the goldenrod. Goldenrod was the star of the show, with the red cabbage producing (and lets be blunt here) down right ugly results.
So ugly, in fact, that we didn't take a picture of it. It came out a very light lavender color that faded to pale, pale yuk. So out it came from that dye bath and we plopped it into the goldenrod dye bath.
Surprise, surprise -- it worked. The two skeins on the left in the picture above show the results of red cabbage dyed yarn, overdyed with goldenrod. The yarn is a light green-ish color that looks wonderful on its own or held together with the goldenrod yarn.
But we didn't fret about that red cabbage dye bath. We added purple basil to it and are waiting to see what color this will bring us. The interesting thing about natural dyes is you never know what you are going to it -- its a bucket full of surprises. Maybe good, maybe another bucket full of ugly. We'll wait and see.
So a great big thank you to all that came out to the farm this weekend. We're a little crazy about what we do here and love to share our obsession. Come see us again!
Calling all fiber lovers and farm lovers.
This is your weekend!
Fifteen fiber farms throughout the state of Ohio will be opening their barn doors for you on Saturday (10 a.m. - 5 p.m.) and Sunday (Noon - 5 p.m.) as part of the Ohio Natural Fiber Network Farm Tour.
That'll Do Farm is proud is say we are one of the 15. So come on out.
Meet an alpaca or two.
Say hello to a goat.
Bring your knitting needles on Saturday and spend some time hanging out with other knitters for a free Sit-N-Knit. (Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Watch the beekeepers harvest this fall's honey at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Or come out on Sunday to watch the natural dyeing demonstration. We've harvested a few plants from the dyers garden and back fields and will be showing you how you can use these plants to color your wool. That's at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
But remember, its now offically fall so dress for the weather.
It is a working farm so wear shoes that you won't care if they get a drop of two of mud on them.
We're open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. And while you're at it, check out the other farms on the tour.
Celebrate the season with a trip to the farm. Hope to see you this weekend!
Good gracious folks, we're eight days into National Honey Month and I haven't heard how you've been celebrating this wonderful time of the year!
That's right. Honey is so valued that it has an entire month all to itself. Think of it. Eggs are every bit as tasty and naturally good for you as honey, but the egg only has one day to celebrate (Oct. 14th).
So lets give a great big shout out to the bees that make honey possible.
They've been working their magic all season long. Dare I say it: they have been as busy as a bee working for you. (Forgive me. It was too easy and I had to do it. I apologize.)
We are a nation of honey-lovers. Americans consume about one and a half pounds of honey per person each year. Not hard to do when you consider that there are more than 300 varieties of honey in this country alone.
We harvest raw, wildflower honey.
And it is scrumpdillyicious.
We are selling it for $4.50 for 4 oz., $8 for 8 oz., and $15 for 16 oz.
If you've never seen honey being harvested, make plans to join us on Saturday, September 24 for "Meet the Beekeepers." Watch them extract the frames, cut the wax off to upcap the honey, spin the frames and then filter and bottle the honey.
And if you're looking for more ways to add a little honey to your life, try Honey with Goat Cheese.
Your friends will be impressed with you when you whip up this little appetizer. Put a round of goat cheese in an oven-proof dish, drizzle a bit of honey over the top, add a handful of chopped walnuts and heat it in the oven at 350 degrees until the honey and cheese are both soft. Put out a basket of crackers with this dish and grab the earplugs. You'll need them to deal with all the people singing your praises!
(Note to our produce CSA members. Next year, we're adding a goat cheese share to the CSA. But don't tell anybody. You'll be able to order your favorite goat cheese variety each week or every other week. But for now, shhhh! It's our little secret.)
So celebrate National Honey Month. Heck, dress up like a bee if you feel like it. Honey deserves the attention.
Officially, it is called Wildflower Honey. But we like to call it Liquid Sunshine.
Pourable, sticky, deliciousness that speaks of warmer days and bright sunshine.
The bees worked hard for us all Spring and Summer and yesterday, the Beekeeper and the Farm Manager bottled up their harvest -- the fruit of all their (and the bees!) labor.
Jars stood at the ready. Cheesecloth and strainers were on stand-by, waiting for action. Let the bottling begin! And so they strained and poured and wiped clean for several hours.
Now, all our filled jars are lined up, waiting for their labels. Beautiful jars of summer sunshine, tasting of warm days, fields of wildflowers and all that is right and good with this world.
The bees will be "put to bed" for the Winter and we will finish labeling the honey from our inaugural season of beekeeping. Soon, it will be for sale at the farm. But get it early because like Summer and sunshine, it'll go fast!
The day we waited for all spring, summer and early fall was finally here. Honey Harvest Day.
You need a relatively warm day with a bit of sunshine to harvest honey. And Tuesday was the perfect day.
We invited Mike Fragassi of LaCampagna restaurant to bring his hives for harvesting, too. He and Farm Manager Mike are freshly back from their land-to-table tour of Italy where they sampled (among many other things) lots of Italian honeys.
First they had to smoke the hives. The smoke somewhat confuses the bees and makes them a bit disoriented, making it easier to extract the frames without getting stung. That's a main point in my book!
After all the frames are out, the wax covering the honeycombs has to be uncapped. It's done with a hot knife. We save the wax to make honey-based hand lotions and lip balms.
Next, Beekeeper Mike and Mike F. loaded the frames in the extractor to spin out the honey.
(By the way, if you picked up on it, yes, everybody involved in the beekeeping operation is named Mike: Farm Manager Mike, Beekeeper Mike and Restaurant Mike. We've GOT to get more creative with the names around here!)
After the honey is spun out of the frames, there's not much left to do but strain it and jar it up. We got about 25 pounds of honey out of our hive and Mike F. harvested about the same from his.
We will soon have a very limited amount of That'll Do Farm honey for sale.
I might be a tad bit biased, but it's some of the best-tasting honey around. It tastes of sunshine and blue, summer skies and all that is right and good with this world. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but I'm a new honey mom, let me brag.
By mid-November, we'll wrap the hives to keep the Winter winds out. We've left the bees a large store of honey within the boxes so they can eat all winter long and maintain the warmth inside the hive.
Come Spring, the whole process begins again. Keep your fingers crossed for another good year of honey harvesting.