Monday, December 21, 2015

Mmmmm... Mushrooms!

Soon, anyway.  Probably in a couple weeks, in fact!  Eric and I decided, after buying a shiitake log at the local garlic festival, to become mushroom farmers.  Yes, really.  Bees and honey, chickens and eggs, and now mushrooms.  I've always loved mushrooms, but until starting to read about them, neither one of us realized just how healthy they are.  It's pretty incredible.

So we started with shiitakes, pink and blue oyster mushrooms, and lions mane.

The blue oysters became fully innoculated with mycelium most quickly, so yesterday Eric and I built the fruiting chamber, sort of a greenhouse that's primarily about keeping the right level of humidity.

We built a PVC frame around metal shelving, and then covered the whole thing in a plastic tarp, leaving a door of sorts, so we can get in and work with the mushrooms.

We set up the humidifier with the electronic sensor Eric built, and a light on a timer, and then Eric cut slits in the fruiting bags.  See all that white all mixed in with the coffee grounds?  That's the mycelium, the body of the mushroom plant!  I know it looks kind of ick, but what comes from it is totally worth it.

And now we're just letting the humidifier do its thing.  Can't wait to watch them fruit!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Eggs, Baby!

I hope everyone had a terrific Thanksgiving (we did!)  and is looking forward to the holidays.  I can't believe Chanukah starts this Sunday night already!  Where did it all go?  I blinked and summer was gone, and then blinked again and it wasn't fall anymore.  They say time flies when you're having fun, but this is ludicrous already.

Anyway, we got a very cool "gift"... over the past week & a half, one (I'm convinced Cher was first) and then another (Lita) chicken started laying!  They've been giving us nearly an egg a day each, one brown, one tan.

And then... and then!  Last night I went to check on the chicklettes and get them in their coop for the night, since they still refuse to go in on their own, the little ninnies, and what did I see... but THREE eggs!

Tan and brown from Lita & Cher, which in total means they've given us 17 eggs so far between them...

... and a GREEN EGG from one of the Araucanas!  I'm betting on Reba; she's bigger than Adele and her little comb got redder faster, so she seems like the mature one.  But either way, a green egg!!!

Go girls!

So this morning, I brought one tan and one brown egg to work, and had myself some incredible scrambled eggs, courtesy of the chicklettes.

Thanks, ladies!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Behind the Feathers

It's occurred to me that I didn't show the construction or interior of the coop and run.  What was I thinking?

Eric did the whole thing after a lot of research, but basically without any plans.  It started, as most construction projects would, with a frame.

He made sure that 3 of the sides would be on or butted right up against a cement walk, since we do have quite a few predators in this area, and didn't want to get up one morning to some random feathers and no chickens.

That platform base over on the right is where he built the coop itself, lofted above the 6' x 12' run below.

I lined the coop floor with linoleum tiles we picked up at the ReStore.  It's not the prettiest, but it's whole purpose is to make cleaning the coop easier, so that's quite all right.

If you haven't ever been to a ReStore, you should check it out, by the way,  Everything's wonderfully inexpensive, but also all the proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity.  In fact, all the "employees" there are actually Habitat for Humanity volunteers!  How cool is that?  While we were there, we also got the roof shingles, since Eric built one heck of a serious roof for the top, to foil any hawks that might try to use our girls as lunch.

Inside the coop, Eric built removable roosts (left) for the girls to sleep on, and cut out the entrances to the nesting boxes (right).

I'm honestly proud of all the great construction he did, and especially impressed with the nesting boxes and other doors.

That unstained piece on the front is a double door, the nesting boxes are easy to get to, and to the right of them is another small door with easy access to their feed bucket.  Everything has double locks, too, in case those wily raccoons figure one kind out.

Inside, there's a sliding chicken door with a cord and pulley, and Eric built the ramp for them too.

Overall, it's just really gorgeous.

And another shot of the girls, just for good measure...

Going around from the blonde down front, that's Adele, Reba behind her, then Lita.  Martina's in the back middle, Miranda's the other blonde, and Cher the black Australorpe up front right.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I know, I know, I've been a slacker

Actually, the problem is that we've been really, really busy.

We had our honey harvest back in July, and then had to bottle and label it all, because we were almost immediately sold out.  It was crazy!

We did save a bunch for ourselves for the year, and there's a it more almost honey to extract to make mead.

But of course, because one of the season's big things was nearly over, we had to take on another.


First came the coop and run, so they'd have somewhere to live.

Eric built it, with some help from his brother and our friend.  I helped stain some of it and pitched roof shingles up to Eric to fasten down.  He's pretty proud of it, and rightly so, as he did it with pretty much no plans and just a bunch of research.  The run is 6' x 12', and the coop is that closed area raised up on the right.  He made the ramp for them, and the nesting boxes are sticking out on the right.

And then, because their feed and supplies needed a place to reside, a storage bench to match!

Yes, he made this too.  My only lament is that it's a custom piece, so it's too long and wide for commercial cushions.  Since I'd like it to have a cushion, I'll have to make one.

After the bench, he finally made the compost bin he's been talking about!

Yep, that matches too!  He did a great job; the top folds in half to throw in food and yard wast, or lifts off completely.  And there's another hinged door on the bottom to shovel out compost.  I'm a little obsessed with bringing out every possible bit of compost for the bin. I just love the feeling of "garbage" not actually going to waste.

And then, since there was wood left over, he made a matching snack table for next to the bench.

And then the finishing touch... ferns!

Conor is obviously very interested in the girls, both boys are.  But I haven't introduced the girls yet!  We got six hens, all pullets, so they're not laying yet.  Hopefully very soon!

Miranda is our buff orpington, and will be largest, fluffiest of the birds.

Our silver laced wyandotte is Martina.

Lita's the barred rock.

The australorp is Cher.

Our blonde araucana is Adele.

And the red araucana is Reba.  Obviously.

Now we just wait... impatiently... for eggs!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In other happy news...

The new queens in both the Swarm and Fish hives are doing their job!  We saw larvae and capped brood (pupae) in both!  Go girls!  Go girls!  Go girls!  And we saw the Swarm queen, but unfortunately I was too slow to get a photo.  But larvae!  Pupae!

The Fish hive was stronger, but since the Swarm population was so small, we took two full frames of capped brood (pupae) from two of the new hives to add to the Swarm.  Once those hatch out, they'll be nurse bees to the queen's eggs and larvae, then guards, and then in a few days ready to forage and help bulk up the hive's population.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

We're Farmers?

Eric tells me that as a kid, he actually dreamed of being a farmer.  I didn't.  He went to an agricultural high school in New York City.  I went to public school, started undergrad as a bio major, and finished as a politics major on my way to law school.  Agriculture never even crossed my mind as being within the realm of anything I wanted to do.

Silly me.

'Cause somehow Eric and I have become farmers.  Weird.

Wednesday evening after work, we decided that it was time to pull some honey supers from the hives.  OK, so we're not experienced or bright farmers.  The bees are less than thrilled in the evening, you see, even just before dusk.  All of the girls are home, all of the foragers are back from foraging, and they're not so keen on dim light or humans (read:  potential threats) breaking into their homes at that hour.  They're never keen on humans stealing their honey, but very much so not at dusk or just before.

So, yeah, not bright.  And I deserved the message I got from the Pooh hive, via a sting in the tush, right through my jeans.  I did, I know it.  And it was fine; because it was through my jeans, she didn't get me badly, just enough to feel the pinch and then itch for a couple days.  Of course, that didn't stop me from calling to Eric, "Smoke my butt!  Smoke my butt!" because when bees sting they release a "danger" pheromone that calls other bees to join in the defense of the hive.  The smoke blocks those pheromones.  All very logical, and in hindsight, funny as all get out, but I'm still glad our neighbors are far enough away that they didn't hear "Smoke my butt!  Smoke my butt!"

Because I'm sure we would have been getting some pretty sketchy looks in the neighborhood.

Eventually we got one (ten frames) of the two honey supers off the Pooh hive, and the one super (six frames) off the Wonderland hive.  And we brought them downstairs to our nifty brand new Kelley Bees extractor we got (which is actually pretty old and we bought used from a fellow beek, perfect for our first year!).

It's a manual, three-frame extractor, and we're definitely getting our exercise!  Turning the handle had me quoting the witches from Macbeth.

Double, double, toill and trouble
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  First, we had to uncap the wax off the honey.

To do so, we used our nifty new uncapping knife.  It's heated and does a great job slicing the caps off.  Turned out I was better at it than Eric, so we figured out quickly how to divide our labor, with Eric holding the frame steady while I sliced.  It smelled so good as the honey was exposed, you have no idea!

From there, the frames went into the triangular metal basket in the extractor, and we started spinning.

The centrifugal force causes the honey to be flung from the cells of honeycomb onto the wall of the extractor and drop down from there, where it's poured through a coarse strainer (to get out any large wax and bee particles but leave the beneficial pollen) into a bucket.

And then?  We bottled our first 18 lbs of honey!!!  There's a bunch more yet to be bottled, and ten more frames we got off the Pooh hive on Sunday to be extracted, and we still need labels, but bottled honey!!!

I'll take the farmer's life.  I love it.
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