Thursday, February 28, 2013


For anyone who missed my last daily update, this post may not make much sense. Unfortunately I accidentally deleted the previous daily update. To summarize, Jack's injuries are more severe than we initially thought, and so we've had to keep him contained to keep him from hurting himself worse.

Earlier today Andrea ran to town to pick up a bale of straw. The area around where we have Jack contained, including the area in front of the steps, had gotten very muddy from the increased traffic in the area. I spread a thick layer of straw over the entire area, which seems to have helped a lot. Not only will it prevent us from tracking mud into the house, but will also keep track from getting his bedding so dirty from muddy paws.

We also had a visitor from a stray cat this evening. It is the second time it has been here, although I didn't get to see it the first time because I was already in bed. Andrea heard it meowing on the back porch, so she went out to check on it. We gave it food and water, and then she made it a bed from a box and piece of fleece. Kitty is not happy about another cat being here. We aren't sure if she's most concerned that it might come into the house, or that it is getting some of our attention, but it's clear that she doesn't like it. It the cat starts coming around more often, or decides to stay here permanently, it will definitely have to remain outside. There is no way that Kitty is going to tolerate having it come into the house. That is ok, though, because we need a good cat outside to help keep the population of mice in check.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


I was able to spend a bit of time outside working today. I spent a couple of hours hauling rock, for the herb garden expansion we have planned. The plan calls for something like thirty-five 2'x2' stepping stones. Our goal is to use large, flat, rocks for those. I knew of a large pile of rocks, which I assume were left by the loggers prior to us buying the land. I had always planned to sort through the pile, but wanted to do so during the winter, when there would be no danger of snakes. I was able to get a couple of good loads of nice flat rocks from the pile yesterday, which should go a long way towards providing enough to do the herb garden. We can probably go back and collect some thicker rocks as well that will work for the edges.

This was the most work I had done since falling on the ice earlier in the month. By the time I finished I was certainly ready to rest. The fact that I spent yesterday walking around at the auction all day may have contributed to my tiring so quickly as well. Hopefully I can put in a few hours of work here and there, and gradually build my endurance back up by the time Spring gets here.

This evening, while we were watching tv and relaxing, Andrea had me help her with a quilting project that she's working on. It was mostly busy work, but I was glad to help, especially since I knew it would save her a lot of time. She had me cutting apart some quilt pieces and also counting some of the pieces for her, so she'd know how many more she needed to cut.

The other thing that happened today is that Jack came home with an injury. He hadn't been home for several days, which is pretty common for him. I think he has somewhere else that he stays part of the time. I saw he was home earlier in the day, so went out on the porch to see him. I noticed he was limping, so checked him out and found a place on his leg. I'm guessing he was either bitten, or perhaps has been in a fight. We'll take him to the vet tomorrow so they can check him out. I'm guessing they'll give us some anti-biotics for him, but hopefully they can us something to ease his pain as well.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Today I attended the 32nd Annual London Farm Machinery Consignment Auction. I had been prepping for the auction for a few days, but unfortunately had no luck today. I was looking for three specific items, with a few others that I was considering if prices were low enough. I didn't even place a bit on two of the items, as they all went for more than I was willing to pay. I did put in a big on a 5' box blade, but it ended up selling for $10 more than the amount I had decided was my max. I came home empty handed, but it was a good experience.

While I was at the auction Andrea was also in London, attending a quilting workshop. I don't think that she actually learned that much, but she primarily went because she's trying to get more involved in quilting activities in the area.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Petzl Tikka Plus Headlamp

I've owned my Petzl Tikka Plus Headlamp for probably four or five years now. I've had it so long that I can't  even remember if I bought it myself, or received as a gift. Either way, I know I picked that model out specifically, based on the reviews I had read.

Since I've had the headlamp for several years, the particular model that I own is no longer available. The current model that seems to be the closest match is the Tikka 2, which, like the one I own, has 4 LEDs, and offers 3 modes, high, low, and flash. Surprisingly, the Tikka Plus 2 is a lot different than the Tikka Plus, with one white LED and one red LED, although the output is higher. I can certainly see the advantages of having a red bulb for certain uses.

Originally I wanted the headlamp to use when camping. I had discovered that trying to collect firewood after dark, while holding a flashlight in one hand, was not as easy task. I've since discovered, however, that a headlamp has many more uses than I originally imagined.

After we bought our property, before we moved out here, I spent most weekends mowing weeds, clearing brush, dragging old logs out of the way, etc. In order to maximize the amount of time I could work before it got too hot, I would try to get here just after the break of day. This required leaving while it was still dark out, so I would use the headlamp while loading the truck in the dark.

Once we moved out here I found that having a light source at night was even more important, as we purposely have no outside lighting. I've used the headlamp for many trips down to the road to take out trash after dark, or going to the shed to grab a tool for some project I was working on inside on a winter evening. I've even found the headlamp to be useful when I'm on the RTV after dark. The RTV headlight provides plenty of light for forward travel, but backing up in middle of the night can be a challenge. Having the headlamp available solves this problem, however, since it allows me to shine a line in whichever direction I am looking.

As useful as the headlamp has been when outside after dark, I have actually used it more inside. I like to read in bed for a few minutes before going to sleep. This helps me to wind down and clear my mind. The last thing I want to do, after putting the book down, is to get up and walk across the room to turn the light off. When I use the headlamp, instead of the overhead light, I can just turn it off and lay it on the table next to my bed when I'm finished reading. Another plus is that the headlamp provides plenty of light to read by, while requiring only a fraction of the energy.

It is possible to use a standard flashlight for any of these tasks that I've mentioned. I have found, however, that a headlamp makes these tasks much easier. I have used a flashlight to read by, when my headlamp batteries were dead, and found it much more difficult than reading by the headlamp.

Considering the relatively low cost of a headlamp, I consider them to be a fantastic value. If measured by hours of use per dollar spent, I suspect that my headlamp has been more valuable than most any other tool I own. The only issue I've had from my Tikka Plus is a crack in the housing, near the of/off button. It hasn't effected the functionality, though, although has made is slightly more difficult to get the housing closed back up after replacing batteries. I have also found that the intensity of light diminishes quickly once the batteries began dying. I suspect that this is made worse by my use of rechargeable batteries, although I'm willing to deal with that inconvenience in order to use rechargeables.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I haven't been posting much lately, but that is something I'm hoping to remedy. I still find that sitting at the desk is uncomfortable enough that I don't want to do it anymore than required for my job. It is getting easier, though, and I even went to the office today.

I've been spending some time during the last few days to prepare for an upcoming farm equipment auction that I plan to attend. I began my research by asking for some advice on the TractorByNet forums.  With that feedback I compiled a list of the implements for the tractor that I think would be helpful to have. Finalizing the list included watching several YouTube videos to get an idea of some of the different ways the implements get used. Once I had my list I then looked up retail prices from three different sources, and also used prices on Craigslist. I still plan to get prices for used items from another source. Hopefully by arming myself with this information I'll be able to identify good deals at the sale, and increase my chances of walking away with a few needed items without overpaying.

We've also been watching a lot of tv lately. Andrea recently discovered that America's Test Kitchen is available for streaming on Amazon's Instant Video service. I'm thoroughly enjoying the show. It combines food and science, so what's not to love.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


I was determined to get outside and work on something today. Since I had all day to work I decided to get the tractor out. Initially my plan was to use the tractor to finish moving the brush pile that is located where the chicken coop will eventually go. While working on that I decided to go ahead and use the tractor to clear out a bunch of briars in the area.

On one side of that area are several logs. They were on the property when we bought it, and when the dozing work was done they were all piled up. Andrea and I looked at the spot together, and decided that it would be helpful to have at least some of them moved. I was able to use the tractor to push them down the hill, and pile them on top of one another, so the take up much less space now. They will still have to be moved again, but at least now we have the space available for the chicken coop and run. I still need to move some stuff by hand that I couldn't load with the tractor. After that I just need to do some leveling, and then should be able to start work on the coop. I would love to get it built by the end of March, but I'm not  very confident that will happen.

In hindsight, sitting on the tractor for a few hours was definitely not the best idea. At first it didn't seem like it was causing very much pain, but by the time I finished I was very stiff and sore. By the time I finished I was hurting more than I have in several days. I've used the heating pad much of the evening, and am feeling better.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Good Foods Market is currently having its quarterly Owner Discount  Days, so we spent the day shopping. We like to work it out so that we can make several other stops on the same day as the trip to Good Foods.

Our first stop was the Marksbury Farm store near Lancaster. We hoped to get lunch there, but unfortunately they weren't serving anything we were interested in today. I was really look forward to one of their incredible beer cheese burgers. Instead I picked up a chocolate croissant and orange cream soda as a snack. Andrea bought a couple of packs of Caught Wild salmon. I had never heard of the company before, but they have an interesting story. Caught Wild is a married couple from Stanford KY who travel to Alaska to fish for salmon, which they bring back to Kentucky and sell to local businesses. 

Our next stop was Pike Valley Farm, which is quickly becoming our go to place for ground beef and chicken breast. Unfortunately they did not have any chicken breast in stock today, but we were able to pick some up at Good Foods, since they carry Pike Valley products. We were also given a large bag of beef bones for the dogs, which I'm sure they will very much enjoy.

After a quick lunch we headed on in towards Lexington. Since it was on the way we stopped by the Lexington Container Company to see what they had that we might need. The only thing we bought were a couple of 5 gallon buckets with gamma seal lids. They had a good deal on wooden crates, but we couldn't think of any practical use for them. Since we were driving the car we wouldn't have been able to haul one, anyway.

Next we went to the ReStore to look for some materials for upcoming projects. The only thing we bought was one piece of PVC for the PVC Pepper Cages. We would have bought more, but the price was more than before, making it much cheaper to just buy the small diameter pieces new.

The next stop was next door at the Good Foods Market, to do our grocery shopping. We stocked up on a lot of items, like we always do during Owner Discount Days. This included a 40lb case of bananas, a 25lb bag of rice, 10lbs of Pike Valley Farm chicken breast, and much more.

Since we were in Lexington we made a couple stops so Andrea could look for fabric, both for a quilting class she is attending soon, and also for Calico Farms Crafts, the side business she's working on getting up and running.

By the time we got home I was getting pretty sore from sitting so much. The drive from Lexington back home was the longest I had sat in the car without stopping to walk around since my fall. I'm glad that its at least a few weeks before we have another long drive planned.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


I suppose I should at least acknowledge the fact that today is Valentine's Day. Andrea and I do not celebrate the holiday, however, so to us it is just like any other day, aside from reading on Facebook about the consumerism that our friends participate in to celebrate.

Today was a good day. I'm starting to feel better following my fall. I was able to actually sit at my desk all day today, for the first time in two weeks. It felt nice to have a full day of being productive.

Since I was feeling better I decided to go outside for a bit after work. I had recently ordered new wheel brackets for the roto-tiller, to replace the ones that bent when I tilled the garden for planting the cover crops. The new brackets came in a few days ago, and yesterday I picked up some hardware for installing them. Specifically, I bought a heavy bolt, lock washer, and nut to hold the two brackets together, below where the old ones bent. My hope is that by bolting them together I can prevent them from bending. I was able to get the brackets bolted together and mounted on the tiller with the wheels. It wasn't a big job, but it was nice to be back outside for a few minutes being productive.

The other thing of note that happened today is that Andrea proved me wrong, and managed to get the harness on Kitty. She has several scratches and bite marks to show for doing it, but she got it on her. Kitty was not impressed. I don't think I've seen her looking that pathetic since the time she went into heat before we had her fixed. I managed to get her to walk through the kitchen to me, but she was clearly not liking walking in the harness. It was hard not to laugh at her, as she would go from standing, to suddenly falling over onto her side, then rolling over. I think she was trying to wiggle out of the harness. After falling over like this two or three times, Andrea finally decided she had her answer regarding Kitty's willingness to wear the harness, and took it off of her, and earned a few more scratches in the process. Looks like Kitty will be riding to the vet in her carrier when she goes next, rather than wearing the harness.

Recycled CD Plant Markers

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned putting out plant markers for the garlic. Between the weather and my injury its taken me some time to get pictures taken that I could post to accompany a blog entry. Yes, I know that I rarely post pictures, but I thought this post deserved a couple.

We always have random objects in storage because Andrea sees them not as trash, but as materials for future projects. That isn't a bad thing, far from it. In fact, if we had more storage space I suspect we'd have a lot more of that type of stuff. I like the fact that she is an upcycler, which not only re-uses items instead of sending them to the landfill, but gives her a chance to use her creativity.

We have multiple boxes of old CDs and DVDs. I would be afraid to even guess how many we have. They have come from various sources, including disks received through the mail, disks that failed during the burn process, and disks that contain data that we just don't need anymore. I suspect that we have many more old disks than most people, but they aren't hard to come by, even if you don't have any on hand at the moment.

The plant markers are fairly basic. Andrea simply painted the plant names on a couple of CDs, then sandwiched a wooden stake between them. Photos of the markers can be seen here and here. She used stencils and a paint pen for the names, but they could easily be done using spray paint, or freehand using a brush or possibly even a good permanent marker. She placed a CD on each side of the stake, so the marker would be visible from the other side of the bed without requiring a separate stake. That works well for narrow beds, such as my 3ft wide garlic beds, but multiple single sided markers might make more sense in some situations. The CDs were glued to the stakes, then further secured by a nail.

The stakes that we used were landscape stakes, which are convenient as they are pre-sharpened on the end, making them easy to drive into the ground. Any wooden stake could be used, however, including scrap lumber, tree limbs, etc. One could also use metal rods or length of PVC pipe in place of the wooden stakes. I'd like to look into finding something that we could re-purpose as stakes in the future, but for now the wooden landscape stakes are working well, and they're useful to have on hand for other uses.

Our Farm Name

Some time ago we decided that we needed to give our place a name. Actually, Andrea had been trying to convince me of that for a long time, but it was only recently that I began to see the need. As we begin to plan for some potential money-making ventures, specifically her crafting business, we decided it was time to decide on an identity we could use for marketing.

We spent countless hours trying to come up with a name. Eventually we had several possibilities, which we narrowed down to a top 10 list. I then presented those 10 options to a group of friends, who provided feedback that helped us to narrow it down even more. Finally, I presented a couple of options to the community at Earthineer, where I received even more feedback.

One of the options that we seriously considered, and that I was especially fond of, was Stray Dog Farm. I liked this idea because Jack came here as a stray, as did Kitty. There was a concern, however, that the name could result in people deciding that our farm would be a good place to drop off stray dogs. That is already a problem along the rode on which we live, and we worried that a sign reading "Stray Dog Farm", might make our place especially attractive as a drop off point. Of course we'd want to care for any strays that showed up here, and I can see us easily becoming overrun by stray dogs.

The name that we decided to go with is Calico Farms. Kitty was the inspiration for the name, as she is a dilute calico. The name also has a quilting connotation, at least for some people, which will fit in nicely with Andrea's crafting business.

Now that we have decided on a name we went ahead and registered a domain name. I'll be setting up email accounts, and a landing page over the next several days. There won't be much info on the site for some time, but I'll share the address once we have something out there. I have no plans to move the blog, but can't rule out the possibility in the future.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New Feeding Routine for Kitty

Since Andrea's surgery, twelve days ago, I've been handling the feeding for Kitty, as well as Luke and Jack. We've been having, at times, a battle of wills, but I'm starting to get Kitty to agree with my method of feeding. We've had a problem in the past with her refusing to eat the food she's given, which results it in eventually being thrown out. It also means that Andrea would have to try to guess what food she was wanting, which sometimes meant trying a couple types of food before finding the right one, resulting in even more waste. Andrea hopes to resume making homemade food for her soon, and we don't wan't that food to be wasted.

Kitty has the ability to sound very pitiful when she wants more food. This is where I have an advantage over Andrea with being the one to do the feeding. Andrea thinks that she sounds like she's in distress, and will eventually give her what she wants, so as to not be mean to her. I, on the other hand, believe that she is just trying to be manipulative, so refuse to give in. Andrea has asked me repeatedly how I can ignore her pleas, which sound so miserable. If I felt like my refusal to give her food was really being mean or mistreating her, I'd give in immediately. I'm convinced, though, that she has just learned that she can manipulate us into giving her what she wants, and so I'm determined to teach her that I'm not so easily manipulated.

My method for feeding Kitty is pretty straightforward. First thing each morning, when she asks for food, I'll give her a small amount, maybe two spoonfuls. I won't give her anything more, until she eats what is in her dish, no matter how often she asks for it. When she's eaten most everything, aside from a few pieces, and she asks for more, I'll give her another spoonful. I always make sure to mix in whatever was left, so that she'll eat it along with the new. We repeat the process throughout the day, until bedtime. Usually she's eaten approximately one can, or maybe a bit less, by that time. For overnight I give her a handful of dry food, which she can eat on throughout the night. The next morning I'll get her a clean dish, add a couple of spoonfuls of food, and then add, to the other side, whatever dry food was left from the previous night.

Last night I fell asleep before giving Kitty her dry food for the night. Andrea took care of that for me, and since there wasn't much food left in the can, she also added it to the dish. When I got up this morning I noticed that there was more food than normal left. I'm not sure if this was because she had more food in the dish for overnight, or because she thought that Andrea was going to resume feeding and she'd be able to get her way more easily.

I gave her a clean dish with a couple spoonfuls of food this morning, of which she ate maybe half. Throughout the day she repeatedly asked for me, and refused to finish what was in her dish. Andrea was working in the kitchen for an extended period today, for the first time since her surgery, and Kitty was very persistent in trying to get her to give her more food. Andrea was sure that she wasn't going to eat the food, and wanted to give her more, but we agreed to wait until close to bedtime at which time I would put out some dry food. Finally, around 8:00 PM, I noticed that she had eaten the food in her dish. I admit that I was starting to lose confidence that she would eat it before bedtime, but I was determined not to give in to her.

I'm hopeful that things will go more smoothly tomorrow. I suspect that her refusal to eat today was due to Andrea being in the kitchen, and her belief that she could get her to give in to her requests for food. Of course that is something we'll have to work on, because Andrea spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Since we decided not to attend the Southeastern Kentucky Beekeeping School event today, we made other plans. I've tried a couple of times to meet someone who wanted to buy some of my photography gear. I was able to make plans to meet him again today, in Berea, which worked out well. I now have some extra space in the closet, and some extra cash in my pocket.

While in Berea we stopped by the ReStore, where I bought a length of PVC pipe which I plan to use in the construction of the worm composting bin. We also dropped by Happy Meadows Natural Food to pick up some milk. I wish there was a closer source for getting the milk that we prefer, but at least we can pick it up whenever we visit Berea or Lexington.

Since we were in Berea we decided to drive on into Richmond so Andrea could by some crafting supplies. We also dropped by the pet store, which was full of dogs today. They had several dozen dogs there for adoption. We managed to make it out of the store without adopting one, but it wasn't easy. Andrea did buy a harness for Kitty, which she thinks she may tolerate better when visiting the vet than she does the pet taxi. I'm not convinced, but it was well worth the $3.50 we spent on it to see her try to put it on Kitty. She hasn't succeeded yet, and I'll be impressed if she ever manages to get it on her. I told her it was a fool's errand.

Andrea was pretty tired by the time we got back home. The trip today was her longest since the surgery, and she was more active than she has been before. She did well, but clearly still needs to build up her strength a bit more before going back to business as usual. I'm still feeling the effects of my fall, and sitting for the ride home was quite uncomfortable. We've spent the evening resting and watching episodes of Antiques Roadshow.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review - The Orchard Mason Bee

In the Backyard Bees workshop at the Eastern Kentucky Beekeeping School event there were several book suggestions. One of those books was The Orchard Mason Bee by Brian L. Griffin. Since I had already considered construction a nesting block for mason bees I was excited to read a book that was suggested by someone who had already done so.

The book is fairly short, at only 128 pages. Do not let that make you believe that it is short on information, however. In fact, I found the book both informational and enjoyable. The book is filled with first hand accounts of the author's experiences, which I prefer to the more scientific-based books one often finds on such a topic. That isn't to say that there isn't plenty of science in the book, because there certainly is. It is just presented in a way that ties in nicely with the author's own observations.

The books covers most topics one could hope for in relation to the mason bee. These topics include the life cycle of the bee, their benefits as a pollinator, predators/diseases, and propagation. I was most interested in learning about constructing a nesting block, and was happy to see that this topic was well covered.

Even though we still intend to experiment with honey bees, I'm excited to also experiment with native pollinators such as the mason bee. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in mason bees specifically, or in native pollinators in general. I've already started reading another of Griffin's books, Humblebee Bumblebee, which covers another of the pollinators native to this area.

One thing I'd like to note is that the author often refers to the company Knox Cellars or products produced by the company. The company was started by Mr. Griffin, and is now being ran by two of his grandchildren. It is to be expected that he'd promote the company in the book, but I would suggest checking other sources for products before taking his endorsement as an indication that Knox Cellars is the best source. Also, due to their location, I assume that Knox Cellars carries the western mason bee, so anyone in the eastern part of the US interested in purchasing bees should probably find a seller who carries the eastern mason bee.


Its been nearly a week since I slipped on the ice and fell. I knew that my injuries would keep me from being very productive for some time. I had no idea, though, that it would have such an impact on my ability to write new blog entries. What I have found, though, is that I am spending as little time as possible sitting at the computer. Sitting for extended periods is still very uncomfortable, and since I need to sit at the computer for work, I'm doing very little of it for other purposes. Today, though, I'm trying a new chair and a heating pad, so we'll see how that works out.

Andrea had a followup appointment with her doctor today. Everything seems to be healing well, and she's under no special instructions. She's been feeling a lot better, but still has some occasional pain. She has been keeping herself busy with crocheting, which has kept her from being too active and overdoing it.

We had planned to attend the Southeastern Kentucky Beekeeping School on Saturday. We weren't sure if Andrea would feel up to it, only a week after her surgery, but we were keeping our fingers crossed. It turns out, though, that I'm not going to feel up to it even if she is. I just don't think I can stand sitting in hard chairs all day, especially following a fairly long drive. I was looking forward to the event, but there is always next year.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Trash Pick vs Being a Self-Disposer

Ever since moving here we've been paying $14 per month for trash pickup. I've often wondered if there is a less expensive option, since we generate so little trash. We have, maybe, a dozen bags of trash per week, and those are the kitchen sized bags and are usually only half full. Its not uncommon for us to skip a week because we forgot to take the trash to the road, or simply didn't want to get back out to do it. Unless there is something in the trash with a strong odor, its rarely a problem for us to skip a week.

Recently I've been thinking about just hauling the trash myself, which is referred to as being a "self-disposer" in the county in which we live. My thought was that we could just store the trash for several months, until we had a full load, then take it all at once maybe, every three to four months. The biggest challenge would be preventing odors, but I think that could be achieved by being careful about what went into the trash, and freezing food packaging until time to take the trash out. We actually already freeze a lot of the food packaging, especially if Andrea has bought several packs of chicken that she has put away and it is still several days until trash day.

Once I started doing some research, to determine the feasibility of my plan, I found out that it wasn't going to quite work out the way I had hoped. The county has mandatory trash pickup, although does allow for self-disposers. The fee for being a self-disposer is $12.00, which allows up to 300 pounds of trash to be hauled to the solid waste station. The issue is that, due to the mandatory trash pickup, self-disposers are required to at least visit the station once a month, and pay the fee, which ultimately makes it a monthly fee. Basically, this means that I could save $2 per month by being a self-disposer, which simply isn't worth it. If I could have only hauled trash off once every three months, and paid $12 per trip instead of $42 for trash pick up service for three months, that would have made it worth considering.

Even though I was disappointed to find out that we are required to dispose of our trash monthly, I understand and support the requirement. In the past it has not been uncommon for people in rural parts of the state to dispose of trash in illegal dumps, rather than pay the fee for trash service. Out of the 120 counties in the state, only 20 have a higher rate of poverty than this one, and the poverty rate is 11% higher here than the state average. It is easy to understand why some might choose to dispose of trash illegally in such a poor area, rather than pay $168 per year for a trash service. I'm not saying that I approve of it, because I certainly do not, but I understand that without requiring trash service many people would choose a less expensive or free method of disposal. When I was growing up my Dad usually burned our trash, which is also bad for the environment. Burning of trash is illegal now as well, although I'm not sure how well enforced the law is.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Online Course Review - Introductory Beekeeping Training Program

I recently completed the free online Introductory Beekeeping Training Program offered by the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. The course consists of 34 video segments, 3 slide show presentations, and an online text book, Backyard Beekeeping, by James E. Tew. The video segments range in length from two to ten minutes, for a combined time of a bit over three hours.

The first thing I noticed when starting the course is that the video segments do not appear to be in a logical order. The first segment is Assembling Hive Equipment, which seems logical enough, until you get to segment 26, which is Basic Hive Equipment. I watched the videos in the order they were presented, and it worked well enough, but I think the order could certainly be optimized.

In addition to equipment, the video segments cover topics such as installing a package of bees, evaluating a queen's performance, spring management, capturing swarms, combining weak colonies, and moving hives. I found some of the segments to be a waste of time, such as the one on branding wooden equipment, but most were very informative.

I really liked the video segments, and found them to be more helpful than simply reading a book or listening to a speaker describe the same procedures. I  certainly feel more confident after seeing the videos, although I'd still like to get some hands on experience before starting our first hive.

The presentations seemed to be targeted more to existing beekeepers than those just getting started. The first, and longest, focused on pests and disease. The other two covered pollination, with a focus on commercial pollination. If you're short on time I think it is safe to skip the presentations, although they are probably worth watching at some point.

The book was a fairly introductory book, so went well with the course. I didn't learn a great deal from the book since I've taken some beginner courses in the past. At just over 40 pages, however, it was worth the time required to read it. One word of caution, however, is that the author primarily presents the methods he uses for managing bees, so I would advise reading additional books or seeking out other sources of information so you can decide for yourself which methods to use.

I noticed one major oversight in the course, top-bar hives. Since the vast majority of beekeepers use "standard" Langstroth hives I knew that would be the focus. I feel like the training does the beginner beekeeper a disservice, however, by failing to even mention top-bar as an alternative.

Completing the entire course, including reading the book, takes approximately take six to eight hours. I think the course is well worth the time investment, and would recommend it for anyone looking for introductory information on beekeeping. I do not feel that it provides complete information, however, and suggest also taking additional courses or reading books offering alternative approaches to the various beekeeping tasks.

Keep Warm by Layering

I'm sure that everyone has heard the recommendation of dressing in layers to stay warm during the winter. As I was dressing to go outside a few days ago, I decided that I should do my own post on the topic. This isn't because I have come upon some secret to staying warm, but because my approach to layering has taken quite a bit of experimentation, so I thought it might be worth sharing.

When dressing in layers my goal is to not only apply multiple layers, but to do so in a way that results in each layer overlapping another. I begin with a pair of socks that are long enough to extend at least a few inches above my ankles. Next I add my bottom base layer, which is usually a pair of thermal underwear, or "long johns", but could also be a pair flannel pants or similar. Next I put on another pair of socks, which overlap the the bottom base layer by several inches. My next layer is my top base layer, which is often just a t-shirt, but could also be a long sleeve shirt for colder weather. Next I put on my pants, making sure to tuck the t-shirt into them. I finish by adding a sweatshirt or other long-sleeve shirt as the final top layer.

At this point I have multiple layers which are overlapped in such a way as to prevent wind from getting in between layers. I usually add a thick coat, gloves, boots and toboggan before I go out. I have found that a hood is actually warmer than a toboggan, but I often have trouble keeping hoods position correctly. Sometimes I'll put the hood on over my toboggan, which seems to work out well.

You may have noticed that this arrangement leave my lower body with one less layer than my torso. This usually isn't a problem, but on occasion I have found that my legs get cold before the rest of my body. I'm not sure if the solution is simply to add a third layer or to switch to thicker, warmer, layers.

Magazine Review - Backwoods Home

I was first exposed to Backwoods Home Magazine a few years ago when we ran across some back issues from 1999. We weren't big fans of the magazine, but we assumed maybe it was because of the focus on Y2K preparedness. Several years passed before we had another experience with the magazine. The September/October 2011 issue contained a 3-page article on Earthineer, which I was already an active member of. BHM had a booth at the 2011 Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, and was offering some freebies for new subscriptions, so we decided to give the magazine another shot.

I very strongly considered not doing a review of the magazine, because I know that a lot of people will disagree with my opinion of it. Ultimately, though, I decided that writing the review was worth the risk, especially since there are surely others out there who share my view.

While trying to think of how to best express my opinion of the magazine, I kept coming back to Andrea's comments from a couple of days ago. Not only does she not want to subscribe again, but she expressed a desire to get rid of the magazines completely. Her reasoning was that she doesn't like having their negative energy in the house. As new-agey as it may seem, I have to say that I completely agree with her.

When we had the back issues from '99, the focus was on the coming catastrophe of Y2K. In the current issues the focus seems to be much the same, only for different reasons. Instead of a technological breakdown, the present coming catastrophe is an economic collapse. The negativity isn't only focused on economic collapse or other catastrophes, however. There are several other articles in the issues that we own that have an energy that I'd rather avoid. My initial plan was to just skip such articles, but I found that approximately half of the magazines feature such as article on the cover, which makes avoiding them completely that much more difficult.

At this point I should stop and say that I realize that to most readers of Backwoods Home Magazine these articles aren't negative. I suspect that to many of you, the same may be true. My intent isn't to convince you that the magazine is focused on negativity, but to simply express the fact that to some people, including myself and Andrea, many of the topics covered in the magazine do carry negativity that we'd rather not voluntarily expose ourselves to.

In addition to the negativity, there are a few other recurring themes that I do not care for. One is the focus on firearms, with many issues including a regular column on the topic. While I have nothing against guns, and own one myself, I'd prefer a magazine that does not put so much focus on the subject. Also, the magazine seems to have a clear political stance, which could put some readers off, whether they share the same political views or not. While political discussion certainly has its place, I'm not convinced that a magazine focused on self-reliance is that place.

Having said all of that, I have found that there are a lot of articles in the magazine that are very useful. On average it seems that most issues have two to three articles that are especially interesting to me. Some of the articles I most enjoyed include Preparing to Battle the Winter Blahs, Medicinal Uses of Garlic, Frugal Beekeeping with Top-Bar Hives, and Build a Holz Hausen to Dry Firewood. In fact, as I looked through the issues recently I was tempted to suggest that we resubscribe. The average issue of Backwoods Home contains as many if not more useful articles that most other magazines. If not for the sense of negativity I get from the magazine, it would definitely be on the subscribe list.

As you might have guessed, Andrea and I will not be subscribing to the magazine again, and will be getting rid of those issues that we do have. However, this is not my recommendation for most people. For anyone who agrees with the focus and tone of the magazine, or who doesn't mind some of the, what I perceive as negative-oriented, articles, it is worth at least checking the magazine out. I think that the quantity of good, informative, articles makes the magazine well worth the cost of a subscription, provided that the other "issues" I mentioned are not a concern to you.


We've received our first snow of the season.We had maybe an inch yesterday morning, and maybe another inch overnight, if that. Many other areas near us are reporting several inches, so we've still been quite lucky.

Once it stopped snowing yesterday morning, around lunchtime, I went to town to do some grocery shopping. Andrea had done a good job of preparing for her recovery, but hadn't counted on wanting Gatorade to drink rather than her normal drink. I stocked up on Gatorade and a few other items she requested while I was out.

Other than that I've been staying inside and trying to help make her recovery go smoothly. Cooking, doing the dishes, and feeding Kitty, Luke, and Jack hasn't exactly been keeping me busy, but since I'm trying to take it easy following my fall, its probably enough. I have been permanently given the task of feeding Kitty, since I'm more strict with her and she can't manipulate me as easily as she does Andrea.

I woke up overnight noticing that the temperature seemed colder than normal. I suspected that the furnace was acting up again, so I got up to check. It was 51 degrees, which is about 10 degrees colder than the normal inside temperature. When I checked the furnace I found it was doing the same thing as before, so I gathered a couple pieces of additional information that the repairman had asked for, and then shut off the power to let the system cool down. That was around 3:15 AM. I woke up again around 5:45 AM, and decided to see if it had cooled down. It had, so I turned the power back on, and in a few moments it kicked back on and was running normally. It has been running fine ever since. I'll call the repairman tomorrow to have him order the part he suspects is bad, so we can hopefully get it fixed later in the week. I don't mind resetting it if that is all it takes to temporarily solve the problem, but I'm sure eventually its going to fail completely, and I really don't want to get stuck for an extended period with only the space heaters.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


We had another round of ice move through the area Friday morning, which couldn't have come at a worse time for us. Andrea was scheduled for a minor out-patient surgery on Friday morning. We needed to be at the hospital, which is 40 miles away, by 7:00 AM. With the forecast calling for ice and snow we were afraid to wait until then, so we decided to get a hotel near the hospital for Thursday night.

Since Andrea couldn't eat anything after midnight, I got up early Friday morning and went out for breakfast while she was still sleeping. The car was iced over and the parking lot was very slick. Fortunately, though, a thin layer of snow covered the ice, which provided some traction. I made it to the nearby Waffle House without incident, and had an enjoyable breakfast. As I was leaving, however, I turned a corner in the parking lot and my feet slipped out from under me on the ice. I fell straight back, and hit the ground hard. Luckily I didn't hit my head, but I suspect I bruised my tailbone pretty good.

Andrea was up when I got back to the hotel, so we loaded the car and headed to the hospital. Her surgery went smoothly, and quickly. They called her back to pre-op at 7:00. I sat with her until 8:20, when they took her to the operating room. The surgeon came out to talk to me at 8:55 to let me know that everything we well. At 9:40 they let me go back and see her, and we were able to leave the hospital by 11:00.

She has some soreness, but is doing well. She's trying to take things easy, so has some projects lined up that she can do seated. I suspect that she'll be back on her feet in a few days. I'm having quite a bit of pain at times from my fall, but I don't think I did any real damage. I suspect, or at least hope, that within a few days the pain will subside. Mostly it hurts when I get up or sit down. I can find a comfortable position to sit or lay, and yesterday it wasn't really hurting when I was walking, although it is this morning.

The forecast is calling for more snow for the weekend. Between the weather, helping Andrea with her recovery, and my injury, I doubt that I'll be doing anything productive outside. I need to run to the grocery store this morning, but otherwise will likely focus on things I can do indoors, and seated if possible, like reading.