bees: ready for arctic adventure?

Last spring we started keeping bees for the first time.

It has been a learning experience, most of it fun and good.  Like the 35 lbs of honey our best hive gave us!  Getting stung on the ankle made E unhappy but otherwise it hasn’t been too bad really.

Thirty five lbs of honey amounts to about 15 frames worth, and there are 9 frames per super so you can calculate that each super might give a bit over 20 lbs.  Why is that important?–I guess because as you get on a few years you wonder how much lifting all this is going to take.  The deep hives are heavier, upwards of 60 lbs.  Fortunately they don’t have to move much; we did a rotation on both hive moving the top to the bottom, the middle up, and the bottom to the middle (if I recall correctly).  So that wasn’t too bad at that.

We also had some help from the youngsters.

Betsy and Gus in July hamming for the camera

With Jimmy, August, Supers are on - honey in the making!

Now for some fun…how are those bees going to survive a Minnesota winter??  I’ll be assisting E in a few days as we winterize the hives and post that soon.

We will put some black store-bought cardboard insulators on the hives as well as moisture boards on top and close all the holes except for the topmost opening.  The bees have a supply of their own honey and pollen to eat and manage to keep themselves warm by beating their wings for the duration of winter.   I hope for there sake it isn’t too long a winter…

Any one else have northern bee keeping experiences or tips or tragedies to share?


a perfect storm Part One

I thought mudslides only happened in Costa Rica, California, and other tropical places that ended with a vowel.  Then one morning last March we awoke to this:

Four feet of mud delivered to the deck

Another view:

The red dot is our well-head about to be engulfed

Happy March Madness–your mud has been delivered!!  Oofta!

The hill above our house is a green and yellow clay.  Clay has unique water-holding properties and is unstable when saturated.  We caused some disruption to the hill last fall, preceded by some 26″ of rain during the summer of 2010, then followed by 80″ of snow in the winter.  All this then culminating in a perfect storm mudslide.

Having purchased the track loader in January, I was initially feeling pretty smug.

With regret I discovered I either could lift it or I could drive into it, but I couldn’t do both.  It was as slippery as snot.  Turns out there is a seepage draining here and  sinking in “quicksand” and disappearing was not on my to do list.  And it kept raining this spring until the end of July.  We covered it with plastic optimistically hoping to prevent it from pushing on the basement wall.  Fears of a basement with many feet of mud were occurring regularly.

Attempting to keep more rain off the foot of it

Sinking in the soft spot

We needed some bigger equipment so I called Digger Dan, he suggested a fair price and agreed to come out when things had dried up.   After two consecutive weeks of dry weather we started.  We were afraid the rain wouldn’t ever stop….


driveway angst

Our driveway is a beautiful problem.  It’s 400′ long, sloped, twisted, gravel and washes away in heavy rains.  It is also slippery in the winter.  Last winter 80 inches of snow fell!  This is how innocent it looks in the summer.

Headed down toward the Sugar Shack

A ditch on the uphill side helps keep it from washing away, but the ditch was full of runoff-sediment when we moved here.  We borrowed a skid loader (thanks Rick!) and cleaned it out that fall, but then had an eight inch down pour in June and in July it dropped another seven inches.  The sediment was back.  And the gravel washed out leaving huge ruts both times.  Damn!

Ditch digging - borrowed Rick's loader

That time we rented a skid loader.  But aren’t tools are a good investment if a job has to be done repeatedly?  It was great to see what you could do with that rented/borrowed equipment so it seemed like a good idea to purchase one if possible.  Besides snowplowing in the winter, driveway maintenance was going to be a year round challenge.  And with so many trees small and large, standing right beside the house, driveway & outbuildings, moving those felled trees around with mechanical leverage would be real handy.

So without any fuss from my liebchen, we purchased a ten year old ASV track loader.  Last January.  Wow!  Versatile!  LOUD!  🙂

((Was it or will it be worth it to keep such an expensive tool handy for the odd job around here?  Only hindsight will tell for sure, but some things are certain:  I’m not getting any younger (1961 vintage) and sometimes my shoulders ache, and when I have a weekend to do a project it’s very frustrating to do things by hand for 6 to 10 hours when you could’ve done the same thing in 30 minutes with a loader.  I guess I’m worried this purchase will look extravagant.  Wait until you read about our March mudslide.))

This weekend we had another driveway issue.

The leaves were so thick in the ditch they were sure to clog up the spring runoff when the snow melts.   In 2009 we burned them on the driveway and it looked like the house might get caught in the fire when the breeze blew sparks on the tall dead grass on the front yard.  (Where it’s too steep to mow.)  Last year we dragged them to a less hazardous way and torched them again.  But they burned so slowly it took probably eight hours to finish.  So this year she asked me to scoop them up.  We could put them in the compost pile and ignore them until they turned to soil.  I said, “Sure!”

I wanted pictures because it seemed ABSURD picking up such light material with a loader, but it actually was a time saver.  I would do it again.  And the weather in November was in the mid fifties!!!!

driveway cleanup

Notice, if you care, the utility trailer has a sheep-crate that I made in a couple of hours.  The materials cost about $25 and to go down the highway you can throw on two ratchet straps to hold it on securely.  It will hold a lot of straw or hay bales.  Worked pretty well for leaves too.  No sheep will jump straight up over a four foot wall.  And no need to buy a separate trailer–all the money is gone for the track loader anyway 😦

Elizabeth glad to have some help with this chore

A few more trailer loads and we got it done.   The compost pile is growing bigger every week.  But that’s something else.


ol’ man winter is coming

It’s been a nice warm mild fall and still…winter will be here soon.  Hey–it’s not uncommon for us to have a stint of minus 20′ Fahrenheit for a week or two in January.  It can get so cold snotcicles form on your nose.  If I didn’t have to commute to town I would be less apprehensive about the coming short days and long nights.  Here’s a photo series of winter at our place from last year…

Elizabeth and Tovah skiing to the coop

Eat! Lay eggs! Enjoy the art on the walls! Stay warm!

Dining al fresco tonight?

Downhill toward the road

Our sad barn

Ski tracks to the west...

The snow plow is ready

Winter can be a time to stay inside and enjoy time by the fire.  Alternatively, it can be something to battle.  It all depends on the weather–and on how much driving you need to do!  Do you have any out of the ordinary plans for the winter?

harvest reflections

After an extremely wet spring and early summer, it finally dried up enough that we could get things out of the garden this fall.  What a relief!   Being a short growing season in Southern Minnesota (Zone 4a) we are basically pleased with whatever we can get. 

We grow peppers (our first year), tomatoes, potatoes, honey dew melons, watermelons, Buttercup squash, raspberries, asparagus, etc.   So how did it go this year?

Well first what didn’t go so good.  Our potatoes hardly germinated.  Maybe because they weren’t certified seed potatoes.  They came from various grocery stores and some were supposedly organic, but maybe they were sprayed anyways??  The Brussels sprouts sputtered out, and zero came to the table.  The broccoli & cabbage & pole beans did okay.

This picture shows the veggie garden layout, with Elizabeth feeling the heat in July.  Weeding is exhausting!  And she did most of it  Me, I keep at my day job while my lovely sweet heart maintains our holding by day.   This plot is about 20′ X 100′ but looks smaller in the picture.  The roofing tin is there in the aisle to keep the weeds in check.  The bushy stuff on the right is asparagus in it’s second summer.  Hopefully we can pick some in 2012!!! The onions did great; the fall planted garlic didn’t survive, although it looked fine at first; the spring planted garlic did okay.  Isn’t that backward?

We experimented with a new variety of paste tomato this year, along with regular Romas, Brandywines, and a few others.  The new variety is called Opalka.  I germinated them from seeds in little Jiffy Pot peat pot dealie-os and that was easy to do.  We planted them below some hog panels that were attached to T-posts and they grew and grew!  They grew over seven feet tall and although they were slightly slower to mature, even in our short climate they over produced everything else.  We loved them!!  They are delicious on a sandwich or salad, they have very few seeds to bother your smile, and they have little water so they are wonderful for canning and salsa recipes.  They taste terrific!

In fact they were so prolific I began to have bad dreams about them taking over the house.

In addition to veggies, we raise chickens, sheep and have a small fruit garden.  Here are some strawberries.  They are ridiculously sweet! 

From these humble raspberries, great wine will be born (I hope).

Another pic of the patch.  The raspberry rows, the grape vines rows and the one asparagus row, are 50′ long.

How was your garden this summer?

brave new world

Welcome to Skunk Hollow Farm!

Since we live in a world where everything seems to be done/made/decided for us, it was refreshing to move the country, and live on our own, doing our best to do things for ourselves and raise as much of our own food as we can.  This isn’t for everybody.  It’s frequently tiring.  And usually dirty.  But we like it.  Is it old fashioned or is it the new way to be alive– re-fashioned, doing things for yourself.

We invite you to come along and see what’s going on.

Please share your comments and experiences if you’d like!

Processing Geese in the Fall

I (Gus) promise to be:

  1. Politically incorrect.
  2. Insightful (hahaha) and reserve the right to be ignorant,
  3. And to do things the hard way the first time.