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Committing to the Here and Now: Chicken Edition

The way we do things around here is always with a fair amount of spontaneity.  We get an idea and we just go for it.  And why not?  We’re all reasonably intelligent human beings, we can learn pretty fast.  Thanks to the internet, it took me all but 10 minutes to learn to build the vermicomposter we’re working on this week, and maybe an hour of research to find the proper information we needed to care for some newly hatched chicks.

Yes, you heard me right, chicks.  We picked out five little chicks at the lumber store the other day and brought them home with us.  It’s something we’ve always wanted to do and we said, “not this year” because we are leaving for two months.  You know what happens when I commit to not being able or ready to do something?  I unconsciously move toward being able and/or ready.

“No, I’m not ready to be married.”  Within a year, I was ready and married shortly thereafter.

“No, I don’t think we can afford a new puppy”.  In a short amount of time we worked a puppy into our budget.

“No, I don’t think I can be a good mother to three children”.  Within months I felt ready to welcome a new baby into our family.

“No, we can’t have chickens this year our summer schedule won’t allow it”.  We’ve found ways around it and made it work for us.

I don’t know what it is…  but I guess it’s just how I roll.  I just find that I need to commit to the “here and now” before I can move on or take on a new endeavor.  Make sense?

Hot Chicks

So… our chicks, Duckie, Tenders, Epic, Sasquatch, and Pteradactyl are the sweetest most precious little things!  They are a week old and already I can see very different personalities.  The kids are enjoying every minute of their time with these little birds.  And I’ve found that my island has great community resources in regards to care, feeding, and butchering.  Not that we’ll be butchering these particular girls…  but if the need ever arose I guess we know where to go.

When we leave for our trip, there are a number of possibilities for the chicks.  They will possibly be integrated into someone else’s flock and we’ll get them when we get home.  (I’ve already received tons of good advice on this.)  Or we may have to pass them on to a new family; which the boys are aware of and OK with since it’s better then leaving them to starve or become dinner.

Once they are ready to go outside, we need to work out building a raccoon proof coop and protection from above.  Those chicken hawks and bald eagles apparently *love* chicken.  And who wouldn’t?  Look at this face!

I’ve seen a lot of people lose chicks for a variety of reasons, but one of those being household pets.  Our goal is to lose none  by way of cat or dog.  The first thing we did was find a Rubbermaid bin with a locking cover.  Then TJ cut out the middle and replaced it with some raccoon proof chicken fencing.  They have air flow, they can’t get out, and most importantly the cat can’t get in!  Wallah!  A brood box!

I bought them the typical chick waterer and chick feeder.  Of course since I got to the stand first, I got to pick the color.  Purple it is!  Someone told me to elevate the food and water a little so they can’t poop in it.  After having chicks for a few days now, I do believe that this is a good idea!

I keep about 2 inches of pine shavings in the bottom of the brood box so their tiny feet can’t slip around.  This is bad for their feet.

And just one more reason I love this island…  the store we got our chicks from GAVE me enough food and pine shavings to last quite some time because theyw ere out of any small bags.  I certainly didn’t need a 50 pound bag of chick starter.  Totally amazing!  I was really, really thankful and so is my budget.

So far these guys errr…  girls are a riot!  Duckie poops herself all the time.  She’s the one I am constantly cleaning off.  Hopefully, she can get a hold on that problem soon!  Seriously girlfriend, that is not becoming of a lady. Tenders is a loner.  She likes to sleep on the opposite end of the brood box as the other girls.  Epic usually falls asleep standing up, and is the last to lay down.  If any bird is standing Epic gets up.  Pteradactyl is the biggest and she is trying her hardest “fly the coop”.  She’s the feistiest of the bunch.  Sasquatch is the tiniest bid.  She’s everything you might expect in the runt.  Sweet, good-natured, and bites!  I think she is the one that chirps loudly when I am not ear the brood box.

Oh and one more thing…  I think TJ is allergic!  The first night we had the ladies home with us he went into fits of coughing and a little wheezing.  Guess he’ll be rooting for their immediate growth so they can go outside!

Honey Robbing in November

We had two casualties when we robbed our honey.  We have no idea how it happened.  One was smooshed and the other just couldn’t use her legs.  We ended up having to dispose of them both.  This one seemed to come alive in the sunlight but never really regained use of her legs or wings.

It’s a little bit late to be robbing honey from our bees, but the record heat (75 degrees!) made it possible.  This is a first year, yet incredibly successful hive.  We don’t have equipment for honey extraction so we decided on taking two frames. First, we simply cut the cap off with a knife and let the honey drip into the pan.  We were hoping the bees could reuse their comb.  Building comb is a timely process and they must eat a lot of honey in order to produce wax.  However, this drip method we chose is unbearably slow and means the kitchen would be tied up for days.  Since we only took two frames I decided to scrape everything out into a pan, honey and comb.  Then, I pushed it through a metal strainer, into cheese cloth then into a glass bowl.

Eventually, the bowl filled and I had to hold the cheese cloth for awhile over it.  It was soooo worth the reward!  We robbed about 6 or 7 lbs of of actual honey.  It’s the perfect amount for our family.

This is definitely a hobby we will be getting into again.  We are going to store all of our gear for next time.  The hive, however, will be up for sale before spring.  Bees and all.  Near by?  Interested?  Email me!

Forest Fire Sunset – Mt. Hopper

Oh look at the beautiful sunset honey. *sigh*

Wow, that cloud is changing shape rapidly. Let's take a closer look.

Dear lord! I think that may be a forest fire!

Yes, that *is* what a forest fire looks like from about 100 miles away (actually I think it’s closer to 40-50 miles upon closer inspection of the map.).  At least I *think* it’s 100 miles or so.  Apparently the Olympic Mountains are so vast that even Google maps can’t calculate the distance.

From what I read a small fire was started on August 5th by lightning.  Rain kept the fire small.  Yesterday, the hot, dry and windy(yes…  I said dry) conditions gave the fire a real boost, up to 120 acres or so.  Today it looks like this.  I’m unsure of the exact details as of this evening other than what I can see out my window.

Now that’s a real life education on fire!

News Story on the Fire

Info on Mt. Hopper

Everyone always asks us if it’s raining here.  As it turns out in the summer, it gets so incredibly dry here that there are burn bans everywhere!  Our grass is almost completely dead!  When the kids turn on the sprinkler, the bugs and the bees come out on full force looking for a drink!

A Royal Supercedure

The Queen is dead.  Or at least we think she is dead.  A few inspections ago we noticed a Queen cell had formed on the top corner of one of the frames. It’s sort of hard to tell from this picture, but everything we researched told us this was most definitely a Queen cell.

The colony might rear a new Queen, if the current Queen is old, and not laying.  When the Queen mates with the drones, she has the ability to lay a certain amount of fertilized eggs.  Toward the end of her life, she runs out of eggs.  She only mates once.  In order for the colony to survive a new Queen must be born.

What we think we know: A supercedure cell is a large peanut shaped cell that is usually at the top of the frame out of the direct path of the current Queen.  If they are at the bottom of the frame, in the direct path of the Queen and the bees, then those cells might suggest they are going to swarm.

We like to be very hands off with our bees,  it was suggested to us that we rip off and destroy the Queen cell.  However, we decided to leave it.  If we were to take away a supercedure cell, we risk the colony becoming Queenless when the old Queen runs out of eggs or dies.  When TJ did his last inspection we found out that our instincts were right.  The Queen cell was empty and  it has appeared that the  colony has invited new royalty to rule them. Our instincts were right!

Old Queen

New Queen

So, you can tell the difference right?  If you can tell, let us know because we can’t!  Some people mark their Queens, but we’ve decided on using the least invasive and least reliable route to identify our new Queen, our eyesight.  We’re going purely by what we observe.  This week egg production has slowed down which is characteristic of a new virgin Queen.  Once she has her rendezvous with the drones, she will work double time laying eggs for awhile.  Or so we think.

That’s the exciting news from the hive.  Other then the fact that we’ve put on our first honey super!  At the rate they’ve been growing and working, we’ll need the second one in no time.  Those extra honey supers are for our honey. It’s so close I can almost taste it!

Our first year colony will be giving us honey.  That’s fairly uncommon.  First of all, our swarm was huge!  About 6.5 lbs if I remember right.  25,000 bees or so.  Coupled with the fact that we purchased used hives that were already loaded with honeycomb.  That means ours bees didn’t have to spend time building comb, they only had to make repairs to what was there.

Our busy bees.

Is it strange that I’ve come to love the smell of propolis?  Propolis is “bee glue”.  They use it to glue things together and fill in cracks and make repairs.  After TJ does an inspection I always love the way he smells.  I guess I’ll always know what a bee hive smells like now.

Beehive Developments – Inspection #4

Yesterday was Inspection #4.  (I think)  TJ is enjoying his new hobby a lot; and who wouldn’t?  These bees are fascinating.  I haven’t had the pleasure of doing an inspection with him yet.  Partially because I am chicken and partially because I have no bee suit.  Yes, I realize that bee suits aren’t necessary.  However, I need one.  Period.

Supersedure Queen Cell Photo Credit: Garth Vest

We believe the Queen in this cell is meant to supersede the existing Queen.  We’ve read and been told that Queen Cells placed on the top and out of the regular path of the Queen are most like Supersedure Queen Cells.  Possibly our Queen is getting old and they are looking to replace her.  A few things could happen here.

  • If the existing Queen messes with the cell, or with the new Queen, the other bees will terminate her.
  • The colony will allow the existing Queen to stay until the new Queen gets up to speed in her egg laying
  • I’ve read that some beekeepers have had two Queens in their hive until the old Queen dies.

Bee Chain Photo Credit: Garth Vest

This “bee chain” is to me, one of the most fascinating things that bees do.  The hang on each other leg to leg, or hold hands, and form a chain across the hive.

Close up of the bee chain. Photo Credit: Garth Vest

The Nova documentary, Tales From the Hive, says they are actually measuring.  This is also one of first things they do when a swarm finds a new home.

Skylar holding a frame of bees for the very first time.

This amazes me.  Not only do I think he is incredibly brave, but he’s been stung in the face a couple times when he was little.  Way to conquer your fears, Skylar!  Um…  that is if you have any fear at all.

Adding the Second Super

And then, there were two.  Inspections are about to get a little trickier.

One Moment We Don’t Have Any Bees…

…and just like that, we have 26,000 bees.  That’s roughly 26,000 bees or 6.5lbs.

Cell phone pic of our swarm before it was captured.

This is a really big swarm.  That’s a dryer vent in the photo if that gives you any perspective.  It was also about 5 inches deep.

Installing the bees into the hive.

We got all the kids together and invited our neighbor, who brought his friend.  Everyone was in awe of how truly amazing this was.  Please notice the painted hive.  It’s not OUR hive.  It’s a borrowed super. but the bottom board is ours and painted.  Our hives are in the process of being painted and we wanted to give a few days for the fumes to dissipate.  When Ren and Kelly and Molly say paint your hive, you better paint your stinking hive.

Cleaning up the spillage.

We heard you should install your bees on a mild day with no wind.  Naturally, we did it on an extremely windy and cold evening.  Still, they spilled over the sides like molasses not wanting to leave their Queen.

What roughly 26,000 honeybees looks like.

Some female worker bees.

You know.  They are actually kind of cute.  Seriously.  I know, that’s coming from me, “she-who-runs-from-bee”.

What roughly 26,000 bees REALLY looks like.

That’s a lot of fucking bees.

Bee butts.

Slowly they filtered into the hive, but not before we got some amazing shots.

First morning in the new digs.

When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was check the hive.  They are a rambunctious sort, and it seemed a bit chaotic to me today with bees flying around everywhere.  I checked on them from above, on the deck, one landed on me.  Of course, I did a funny dance and ran away.

We will do our first thorough inspection in one week.

Enjoy this awesome video that Skylar made.  I love hearing his voice when he is excited.  This whole experience so far has been so representative of how humans learn.  More on that later.

The Birds and The Bees and a Racoon

It’s been wildlife central here lately.  Last week, my indoor cat accidentally snuck out the door.  I head down the steps in the front yard where she has paused to smell something, and scooped her up by the neck.  Just as I looked up, I spotted no more than 15 feet from me, a coyote crossing the yard.  Damn, am I glad I caught my cat before she had time to disappear into the blackberry, I may have never seen her again.  Just today there were several reports of found dead kitty remains not too far away.

Our property is ridiculously overgrown.  I’m sure the neighbors are thrilled.  Unfortunately, this is the way is was when we got here.  I love yard work, but I can only move so fast.  There’s a lot of ivy and blackberry out there!  In the mornings, I tend to hop on the trampoline (pun not intended) and lay down and stare at the the tree tops and the sky.  I’ve seen at least 4 red tail hawks in flight.  They *could* be the same one, but I like big numbers.  Among my favorite yard birds are the Western Tanager and the Northern Flicker.  I’ve got a thing for bright colors, too.

After our honeybee swarm experience, we all became awestruck with the honeybee and decided to get a hive. Setting up with a new hive and equipment can run between 200 and 400 dollars.  I ended up finding an ad on craigslist for someone who was moving away and selling A LOT of hives.  We picked this up for about 50 dollars.

2 deep supers with frames, a hive cover, a bottom board, a queen excluder, and a feeder.

Lucky for us and the bees, the frames already have comb.  What this means, is that when a new swarm moves into our hive, they will have a lot less work to do.  All they will have to do is clean up, clear out the unwanted, and make repairs.  That’s going to free up a lot of time to build up their stores.

Comb on a wax foundation from a previous swarm.

The comb is absolutely amazing.  Each hexagon is exactly the same size.  They are also multipurpose.  The Queen lays her precious eggs in the comb, and they store honey in there.  Hence the name, honeycomb.

The frames fit precisely into the super (box).

Each frame must be a certain space apart from each other or the bees will glue them all together with propolis.  That’s bee glue, and it’s freaking strong too!  In the picture there are reddish dots around the frame, that’s the propolis and they use it to fill in gaps and holes and well, glue stuff together!

Stomping grounds.

The boys helped TJ prepare the area where the hive is going to go.  It’s amazing what happens when one develops an interest.  Skylar wanted bees like, yesterday!  He’s been doing research and yard work, and being attentive to any conversation about beekeeping.  He filmed the bee swarm we had and the beekeeper catching the swarm.  He even went with TJ, 1.5 hours away to pick out a hive and instead of running around with the 7 kids that lived there, he chose to stay with TJ and discuss bees.

Bee Casa Es Su Casa

Here it is.  It’s not pretty, but it’s there.  It’s possible that a swarm moves in on it’s own considering there are probably lingering Queen pheremones but we’re not betting on it.  So hopefully we’ll find a swarm soon and not have to purchase one.  Luckily for us, we happen to know a beekeeper now.

Sunday morning I got up bright and early to do some yard work before the feral bees (bumble, honey and otherwise) hit the bushes.  They are none too happy when I start pruning their favorite trees.  I didn’t get much pruning done due to an uninvited visitor.

So freaking cute, but such a pain in the ass.

The Honey Bees and Their New Keeper, Brad

Swarming bees is nothing I am accustomed to.  I’ve never seen a bee swarm in my entire life.  Not on a tree, not in a bush, and certainly not in the air.  So when Phoenix and I went outside yesterday to jump on the trampoline, you can imagine my surprise when I realized we were surrounded by a buzzing cloud of bees.  Naturally, I gasped, and grabbed Phoenix and ran into the house…  FAST.
Honeybees beginning to swarm.

You can see the bees flying around the fireplace chimney and the bush. They are just beginning their swarm!

The funny part is, my neighbor had just dropped by after seeing me with my new weed eater.  The same owner owns his home and mine, and the vegetation has been out of control for years.  We shared yard work stories, and he shared the story of the bee swarm his wife witnessed last summer.  No less than 2 hours later, Phoenix and I found ourselves standing in the middle of it.

The swarm at about 7am this morning.

The kids and I all piled into my bedroom to watch out our window.  The buzzing was so incredibly loud we could hear it through the window.  Slowly thousands upon thousands of bees crossed our small yard and starting swarming around our outdoor fireplace.  I thought they were going to take up residence in the chimneys, but instead they found a nearby bush.  By the end of the day, they were packed tightly into a little, OK, BIG swarm.

Local beekeeper Brad attempting to drop the swarm into the box.

I called a local beekeeper who was more than willing to come on over and capture the bees.  It’s his first year capturing swarms and he seems to really like his work.  He answered some of our questions and amazed us with his bravery!  Look mom!  No gloves!


The job seemed relatively easy for him.  I’m so happy we called him.  He closed up the box and put a weight on top.  It seems that he was successful in capturing the Queen since all the bees have now left the branches.

The bee box. Waiting for Brad to pick it up this evening.

I have this nagging feeling to open the box and look inside!  But I won’t.  I’ll wait for Brad to come this evening and pick up his new bees.  This has certainly sparked an interest in all of us, and we may be setting up to keep bees in the very near future.  If anyone has suggestions on books, websites, beginner supplies, or anything else they’d like to share, please do!

Managing Housework: Making Cleaning More Enjoyable

I’ve been sick for the last week or so.  I must have picked something up from the UWWG, since I started feeling badly as soon as I got home.  I will affectionately label this one as the “conference crud”.  At least one of us gets it after each conference.  I’ve been so tired, and not really wanting to do more than sit on the computer and veg out.  With these three boys, you can only imagine what our home looks like!  Our basement, which also happens to be the playroom, looked like someone had turned it upside down and shook it out onto the floor.  Not getting it?  Let me see if I can help you conjure up a nice visual.  OK so, our playroom, ate your playroom and then vomited all over my house.  How’s that?

I am feeling so much better today, thanks to the passing of time and possibly Dana Ellis’ magic soup (that she hand delivered, along with some of her fine coffee – how’s THAT for service)!  I went into the basement this morning knowing I was going to finally clean it, and I wound up thinking about how in years past cleaning a house this size (2100 sq. ft.) would have completely overwhelmed me.  I might have done it, but not without complaining, possibly some whining, and certainly not without bitching about the mess to whichever family member happened to be lucky enough to be within earshot.  I’ve learned that in order to not become overwhelmed with the housecleaning, I needed to make it more manageable.  There are a few things I do in my home that help me tremendously.

Shelves, bins, and baskets. I don’t really like the word messy.  I haven’t come up with anything better, but when you are home a lot, things get messy, really messy.  It’s a lived-in house.  Parents who send their children to school have a much easier time keeping their house clean because no one is *in* the house all day.  All over my house there are shelving units, bins, and baskets.  Personally, I like it when everything has its own place.  It’s the only way I feel organized.  Granted, nothing seems to ever BE in its place but, at least it HAS a place!  Having lots of shelves, bins and baskets ensures that the toys always have a place to go, and I can keep the clutter organized.  It also makes for a super fast clean-up if and when I need to.

Space Management. It’s overwhelming to look at an entire house or an entire playroom and think about the house cleaning that needs to be done.  When I went downstairs this morning to pick up, I started in one corner and worked my way through the room.  I work from the top down and in 3ft. x 3ft. squares.  No, I don’t get out a measuring tape, I just sort of visualize a small square to clean and I clean it.  Then, I move on to the next square.  By cleaning small chunks at a time, I feel productive and I can actually *see* the cleaning that is happening vs. running all over the room picking up random objects.  When I clean that way, I become overwhelmed and easily frustrated because nothing ever seems to look any different!

Vacuum as you go (or sweep or dust): After I’ve cleaned a space I tend to vacuum (or sweep) it.  Even if it’s a little space.  It helps  motivate me to keep going and there is no reason a small part of the room can’t look nice.  I do the same for shelves or the kitchen counters.  I clean, square by square, and after a few squares I wash the shelves.  They always look so nice and shiny.  I need that instant gratification, even if tiny.

Know your limits. Everyone is different.  I can clean all day, some people can only clean for short periods of time.  Flylady has the greatest idea of using 15 minute timers for cleaning.  For people who absolutely hate cleaning, picking something small, and setting a timer for 15 minutes is a great idea.  This doesn’t work for everyone, and Flylady sends out so many emails a day, her program isn’t realistic for everyone.  When I start feeling frustrated or fed-up, that’s my cue to stop cleaning and find something enjoyable to do for awhile before I go back to it.  There is no hard and fast rule that I have to clean in a bad mood.

Change your perspective: When my house is especially cluttered, I think to myself that the kids must have been learning a lot.  When the dishes are all dirty, I think about how much they’ve grown and I break out the paper stuff instead.  When the laundry is piled up high, I am thankful the kids are changing into clean clothes!  My house has people in it.  Happy, busy people who leave things everywhere.  I am thankful they are here.  I always feel it’s a good idea to set myself up for success.  When I find myself seeing housework as drudgery then I find a way to make it pleasant. Music is one of my best cleaning tools.  Some people love scented candles, or nice smelling cleaner.  Maybe you want some nice soft cleaning rags.  At the UWWG, I heard Kelly Lovejoy recommend to someone who didn’t like washing dishes, getting some nice dishes, something you love that is nice to touch and wash.  That is a GREAT idea.  Make the experience pleasurable and you will find it easier to change your perspective. Mary Poppins wasn’t wrong when she said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun”.

Lower your expectations: Especially when kids are little!  We are home a lot more, our home is USED for a lot more.  I allow it to be “lived in”.  Perfectly neat and tidy homes are boring anyway.

Whenever I’m feeling negative about something, I stop and ask myself, Why?  Why am I feeling this way?  Many of us were brought up with forced chores and/or the ideal that the house *must* be clean and that has left so many of us with feelings of resentment or anger over the housework.  But WHY should housecleaning be so negative?  By cleaning, I am expressing love for my home, love for my family, and love for myself.  I truly believe the more work I put in when they are little the less I’ll be doing when they are older.  I’m already seeing evidence of that with my eleven year old, who is more and more happy to help out when I need him to.  It’s hard when they are little to keep a tidy home but, they will grow up someday and I might miss them being little.

If you have any tips that make housework more efficient or enjoyable, I’d love to hear them.

Shameless Holes

After visiting Zenmomma’s Garden yesterday, I was inspired to rekindle my love of subliminal and not-so-subliminal advertising campaigns. Apparently, there is no such thing as going “too far” in advertising.

Enjoy! I think.