Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Winter Walk

Over winter break, I took my camera along on a walk we took down behind our house.  We own some acreage down in the river bottom that we rarely have the opportunity to explore.  In the spring, the river is usually flooded for several weeks, or even months, and the land is inaccessible.  Once the temperatures warm up, the mosquitoes hatch and it becomes unbearable to venture down there.  If we have a dry fall, we usually enjoy some walks before hunting season begins.  Once the snow falls – at least during a normal winter – it once again becomes difficult to enjoy a walk because of the deep snow.

We are not having a “normal” winter though, so the land is still accessible and we are trying to take advantage of it.

Despite the flood waters that come every spring, we have some enormous old trees among all the smaller saplings and brush.  This one looks like it may not be standing too much longer.

We came across the monster tree below, as well.  I cannot imagine how many years it has stood there, and all the spring floods it has seen come and go.

Taking a closer look, you can see a small area of daylight through the trunk of this tree.  I wonder how long it will take for the critters and the weather to chisel away at the heart of the tree until it finally succumbs to gravity.

Sofie, our Golden Retriever, is always beyond excited when we head towards the river bottom.  There are so many things to explore.  She was particularly excited about this hollowed out log.  Fearful of the possibility that a skunk could be residing within, we quickly encouraged her to move along.

Our goofy cat, Nina, also followed us on our walk.  She seemed annoyed the entire time and was meowing loudly as she trotted behind us.  She eventually gave up on us and turned around.  We met up with her again when we reached the house porch.

The warm temperatures of December have left the river open in most areas.  The open water certainly must make life easier for the wildlife that roams the river bottom.

Since we took this walk a few weeks ago, all the snow has melted.  We need to get back down there soon to enjoy the peace and tranquility while we can.


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Free-Ranging in January?

It has been a strange winter in Minnesota.  We have had a few coatings of snow here and there, but nothing has stuck around for an extended amount of time.  Even more unusual is the record-setting high temperatures we have had lately.  On the way home from work today, on the 10th of January, my car thermometer registered an outside temperature of 52F!

Normally, at this time of year we are putting a lot of effort into keeping our chickens warm.  With our average January temperatures usually in the teens, it can be a real challenge.  Not this year – not so far.

This year the chickens are having a really great winter.  They typically will not set foot outside the coop once there is snow on the ground.

In the bright sunshine and fifty degree temperatures today however, they enjoyed several hours of free-ranging around the farm.

They cover a lot of ground scratching, pecking, eating, or whatever they are doing, as they wander around the yard, into the woods, and through the gardens.

After the new hens from this spring started laying egg in the fall, we culled the old laying hens.  Down to just ten hens, we gave two away to Jesse’s brother, and then lost one to some sort of predator.  So, we now have only seven laying hens.

They are really dazzling and healthy looking birds.  All of them are prolific layers.  With our oldest away at school (he ate a lot of eggs), we can’t keep up with eating all of their eggs and we so we try to give some away when we can.

The black speckled hen on the left below is a Barred Rock and she lays brown eggs.

This gal is one of our three Araucana hens.  I always try to make sure we have at least one Araucana because I love the spectacular light blue and green eggs that they lay.

The white hen is a Light Brahma.  The feathered feet on this breed are so cute.  And even better, they are very reliable brown egg layers throughout the winter.

We ordered this assortment of laying hens last spring from Murray McMurray Hatchery, like we always do.  We have never been disappointed by the chicks we receive from them.  Our plan is to order more chicks for this spring – a few more laying hens and some meat birds.

It sounds as though our warm weather might end in the next few days.  Snow is predicted to fall as early as tomorrow and the chickens will inevitably choose to stay in the confines of their coop until the ground is bare once again.  Based on our winter so far, I am hoping they won’t have to wait until spring.


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Making Beeswax Candles

We have now enjoyed three seasons of beekeeping.  Each year brings new challenges, successes and failures.  It is a constant learning process, which is part of the fascination of beekeeping.  Just when we think we have it figured out, something unexpected happens.  The whole endeavor is a good reminder that, like so many things, no matter how hard we try, we are not in control of the outcome.

Besides the honey that we enjoy all year long, another byproduct of beekeeping is the wax that you collect from uncapping the frames to harvest the honey.  The first two years there was just not enough to do anything with, but we decided after this season that we finally had enough to attempt making candles.

Our storage method for the wax has not been anything elaborate.  After letting the cappings drain for several days to remove as much of the honey as possible, we just placed the cappings in a plastic grocery bag and put it in the pantry.  Each year we just added to the grocery bag.  Here is what our collection of cappings looked like when we started the candle-making process.

The cappings are by no means pure wax.  Mixed in with the wax are plant particles, bee parts, etc.  The challenge is to clean the wax and get it ready for making some lovely beeswax candles.

The first thing we did to prepare the wax was to rinse it under hot water.  We placed the cappings in the nylon mesh bag that we use for draining the honey out of the cappings after harvesting.  The purpose of the rinsing is to try to remove any remaining honey.  Based on the color of the water, it appears that some honey was rinsed away.

After much on-line research, we concluded that the next step was to melt the cappings in a pan filled with some hot water.  Once the cappings were melted, we removed the pan from the heat and let it cool.  The wax rises to the top to harden and most of the miscellaneous particles either settle on the bottom of the pan, or float at the top of the water and then stick to the bottom of the wax.  Using a knife, we scraped away the bottom layer of the wax.

Because the wax still appeared “dirty”, we repeated this process in the hot water two more times.  By the third time, it was finally looking fairly clean after it cooled, with just a few remaining particles present.  We then used a double-boiler to melt the wax.  Beeswax is flammable, so it is safest to use indirect heat for melting.  (And make sure to use an old pan and utensils, because the wax is impossible to remove once you are finished with the project!).

To remove the remaining bits in the melted wax, we took an old nylon and stretched it over a plastic bowl to use as a filter and it worked fabulous!

We had previously ordered candle-making supplies from Mann Lake, Ltd., our favorite beekeeping supply company.  We ordered a votive candle mold, wicking supplies, and small metal discs to put on the bottom of the candles.

To prepare the mold for the wax, we threaded the wick up through the bottom of each mold and held it centered with a bobby-pin.

It was a little tricky pouring the hot wax into the molds.  I think we will look for some type of container with a spout next year to help with the precision when we are pouring.

We were surprised at how quickly the wax cooled and hardened in the molds – they were usually ready in about 30 minutes.  In the meantime, we just left the hot wax in the double-boiler on the stove turned on very low, just enough to keep it liquid.

To remove the candles from the mold only required a little twist of the mold and pulling it out by the wick.  We then just clipped the wick with a scissors and put the bobby-pin back to hold the wick centered for the next pour.

We only had one votive mold so the process of pouring the candles was quite lengthy.  In the end, we ended up with 30 lovely beeswax votive candles.

As with all of our projects, we did research and planning in advance, but had to improvise along the way to try to achieve our desired result.  The candle-making process turned out to be a time-consuming one, partly because we struggled to get the wax clean and also because we only had one mold.  For our next venture in candle-making, we will definitely purchase another mold.  We may try tapers next time.

Based on the amount of time and effort it took to make these 30 votives, I can certainly understand why beeswax candles are costly.    It was a great project for our Christmas break though, and one we all enjoyed.

The sweet smell and slow burn of these will be enjoyed each time we light one in the coming year.



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Blown Away by 2012

Winter finally arrived here in Minnesota last night.  It snowed a few inches before midnight and the wind continued to intensify all evening.  Throughout the night, the wind howled and sometimes rattled our bedroom windows.

We woke up this morning to a very windy and gusty 2012.

With sustained winds of over 30 mph and gusts of up to 50 mph, we are under a wind advisory.

The high winds are not unique to Minnesota, as much of the Midwest is experiencing the whipping wind.  It is forecasted to continue through Monday for much of the country.

Thankfully, the temperatures are not our typical January frigid ones.  Although I usually complain a lot about Minnesota winters, I actually don’t mind finally having some snow on the ground.  I will be just fine however, if our usual cold temperatures never show up.

The good news is that it is already January 1st, and no matter what happens, winter here in Minnesota is going to seem shorter than usual because of the mild fall we have enjoyed.  And because of that, 2012 is already looking good to me!

Happy New Year!


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