Red Bucket Farm is an urban farm on a quarter acre property in an average residential neighborhood. We are located in Wisconsin, USDA Zone 5. We focus on chickens, bees, orchard fruit, and raised garden beds for fruits and veggies. We hope to reduce our footprint on the planet by growing some of our food, reducing our use of fossil fuels, and gardening with sustainable practices. Thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Special Delivery: Chicks have arrived

The telephone rang at 7:45 this morning. The post office informed us that we could pick up our box of chicks right away! We knew the babies had been hatched and shipped on Monday and we were ready for their arrival. As we stood at the counter in the post office annex, we could hear the peeping loudly from the back room---a good sign that they had survived the journey.

With no further ado, let me introduce the new girls:
This white one is Daisy. She's a Delaware, a heritage breed on the threatened list. At first, Daisy was very weak and we thought she wouldn't live through the day, but she's turning out to be rather bossy in the brooder box.

The striped chick is Crocus. She's a hybrid known as an Easter Egger because she'll lay green or blue eggs. This breed is usually gentle.

This is Rhododendron, the Rhode Island Red. She's a standard breed that lays lots and lots of big brown eggs.

This black and white chick is Petunia, a Barred Plymouth Rock. You can't see her white bottom in the photo, but she looks like she's wearing a diaper! So far, Petunia seems pretty mellow.

The brown chick is Poppy, a Partridge Plymouth Rock. She's the tiniest of our new chicks, but full of personality.

And this ugly duckling is Squill, a Speckled Sussex. Isn't she something?

Many thanks to my teenaged daughter, who took the glamour shots of the chicks---not an easy undertaking.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bare Root Room Open

It's a true harbinger of spring and a moment of happiness in the heart of every gardener. I'm referring to the weekend that the local garden center hangs out the sign reading "Bare Root Room Open."

For a few weeks each spring, the garden center sells a variety of bushes and trees "bare root."  Dormant plants are displayed in a chilly storage room, sorted into bins and labeled. They look like dead sticks with a few branches above and a few roots below.

This is not glamorous shopping. Gardeners who buy plants this way are going on faith that this will soon be a viable plant. The advantage to acquiring plants this way is primarily cost savings. Fruit trees cost around $25 bare root rather than $40 potted later in the spring. The other main advantage is the reduced bulk. We easily loaded four bushes and three trees in the trunk of our economy sedan.
We soaked the new items overnight in buckets of water, and today planted three new fruit trees: a Contender Peach tree, a Chinese apricot and a Goldcot Apricot. We also potted a Brown Turkey fig tree and four blueberry bushes (Blueray, Northland, Patriot and Rubel). The blueberries will get transferred to the ground when the planter is terraced later this spring.

Don't wait---the bare root opportunity only lasts a few weeks. Once the dormant branches start to sprout, it's time to pot them and then the bare root room is closed again until next year. Besides, planting trees in the partially frozen ground is fun and tells a good story later.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What do you do with all those eggs?

I never get tired of slipping my way down the back hill to the chicken coop and gathering the eggs of the day. Just this morning I discovered three lovely eggs all in one nest. I imagine the girls waiting patiently in line to use the preferred nest basket, even though the other nest boxes are available.

I am perhaps a little too proud of my urban chickens. Too often I have bragged that my three happy hens lay 18 eggs per week. Very often I get a startled look and the incredulous question: What in the world do you do with all those eggs?

Well, we eat them, of course. I think our egg consumption has increased since raising our own chickens, but I also think that our consumption of meat and meat products has decreased. We're not vegetarian by any stretch, but I'm concerned about eating meat that has been produced in large feed lots. I'd prefer grass fed meat which is hard to find and expensive. Our diet continues to modify in order to eat more locally and organically produced foods. It's all good.

Here are a few ways that eggs get used in our house: bean burgers,1 egg; parmesan rice cakes, 2 eggs; tortilla espanola (Spanish omlet with potatoes) 6 eggs; pumpkin torte or pumpkin gratin, 3 eggs; spinach gratin, 3 eggs; pumpkin custard, 3 eggs. Also, many breads, muffins and cookies use an egg or two per recipe. Yesterday I made mayonnaise for the first time---really wonderful---and today I'll use the leftover mayo to make ranch dressing for salad.

On Sunday mornings we actually have eggs for breakfast. One teenager prefers plain scrambled eggs. The other teen likes them soft boiled with a pat of butter and a pinch of salt. The adults have scrambled eggs with leftovers, perhaps some rice or barley, mushrooms, scallions, cheese and whatever is leftover in the refrigerator.

What's your favorite egg recipe?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chicken Poop Tea

Yesterday I started brewing a bucket of chicken poop tea. No, this isn't the latest blend from Celestial Seasonings. Instead, it's homemade liquid fertilizer.

In the February/March 2011 issue of Mother Earth News, I learned that my tiny seedlings are at risk of nutrient deficiency because the lightweight seedling soil mix is quickly depleted. I can give them a boost with liquid fertilizer, and I can make my own at home because I have the correct ingredients close at hand.

I took my red bucket out to the chicken coop and gathered several handfuls of chicken poop along with wood shavings. Then I added a gallon or so of water and gave it a stir. I'm letting it brew in the greenhouse for a day or two before I strain out the gunk (which will go to the compost bin). I'll still need to dilute the tea 1:1 so it doesn't burn the seedlings. I'll be able to use this treatment on my baby plants every two weeks.

Sounds yummy, doesn't it? I hope it helps my little seedlings.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fencing the Chicken Yard

Today was a glorious spring day and I had my whole work crew at home, so we set about fencing the chicken yard.

I've mentioned in previous posts that my hens are well-cared for, spoiled, even pampered. Last year we built the casa gallina, a veritable fortress for chickens. The girls are happy there and have plenty of room, but they do love to get outside and search for bugs. We let them outside daily, of course, but we never leave them alone for a moment because we know the hawks will show up in an instant and snatch them.

It took about four hours to fence the chicken yard. We recycled two gates from our veggie gardens and added rabbit fencing around the coop in the corner of the farm. Then we erected tall corner poles to hang the bird netting overhead. We still won't leave them out for long periods unattended, but now we can work in the yard without wondering where the girls have wandered.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Starting Seeds Indoors

I got spring fever early this year. I needed to do something garden-related, so I started some perennial flowers by seed indoors in very early February. I was thinking about blossoms for my honeybees. Truth be told, the perennials-by-seed have been only marginally successful. I have one echinacea plant, a couple of hollyhock seedlings, and several lemon balm.

At the same time I started spinach, chard and lettuce in bowls for indoor germination. This has been far more successful. Today I moved the salad bowls out to the greenhouse.
Later in February I started some vegetable seeds in peat pots for indoor germination. I planted Amish Paste Tomatoes, Sun Sugar Cherry Tomatoes, Flamme Tomatoes, Brussels Sprouts, Basil, Yummy Mini Bell Peppers, Carmen Hybrid Peppers, and Eggplant Rosa Bianca.

I don't have the greatest conditions for starting seeds indoors. I keep my house rather cool (62 degrees during the day) and the soil might need to be warmer for those seeds to germinate. Still, with a little creativity my plants are slowly getting started and I'm trying to remain hopeful.
In a few more weeks, I'll move all the seedlings to the greenhouse, but temperatures out there still fluctuate too widely for the tender seedlings.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What is an Urban Farm?

Last night at my other, non-farming job, I overheard this conversation:

"Have you read Cindy's blog?" asked one person. "It's really good."
"This Cindy?" asked the other person incredulously. She jerked her head in my direction.
"Yeah, this Cindy. You should read her blog," maintained the first person.
"What's it about?"
"Her farm."
"She doesn't have a farm," came the firm response.
"Sure she does," my defender replied. "It's her backyard."
"That's not a farm," the doubter shot back.
"It's an urban farm." My friend stretched the word for emphasis. "You should read her blog. It's good."

Urban farming is hardly a modern phenomenon, it's certainly not my invention, and it is growing in America. Today's urban farmers are concerned about sustainability. We work carefully to avoid harming the environment even if it means we might lose part of our crops. Many of us might be locavores, meaning that we try to eat food that has been grown locally. We want to decrease our carbon footprint by consuming foods that have not been shipped for hundreds or thousands of miles.

When I was growing up, our next door neighbors were a German family who had narrowly escaped the Nazis. When they came to America, they brought their European gardening tradition with them. Every inch of their backyard was intensively gardened, and I'm sure they rarely purchased vegetables from the grocery store. Similarly, today's Hmong immigrants show remarkable resourcefulness, ingenuity and productivity from their small community garden plots. Sometimes I ride my bike very slowly past their plots just to learn from them. Remember that large expanses of green grassy lawns are a peculiarly and wasteful American phenomenon.

What separates a garden from a farm? Livestock. Urban farmers often raise chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, rabbits or honeybees. Occasionally they might be able to raise goats or sheep, depending on their local ordinances.

One well-known urban farmer and author, Novella Carpenter, has documented the story of her farm on an abandoned lot in the slums of Oakland. In her novel Farm City, Novella details her experience of dumpster diving behind restaurants to scavenge food for her pair of backyard pigs. That's commitment.

Urban farming has become savvy and sophisticated. I recommend Urban Farm magazine, dedicated to sustainable city living. It's by the same publishers as Hobby Farms Magazine, but it has a distinctly urban emphasis. There are hundreds of blogs on urban farming, beekeeping, backyard chickens and more. Join the movement, grow at least some of your own food, help care for Mother Earth.

And thanks for reading my blog and defending my farm, LM!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Greenhouse Construction

I have always loved a greenhouse. I love the way the soil smells clean and earthy, the humidity steams my skin and hair, the plants may be blooming and fragrant. I've been known to visit a greenhouse just for a mental health break.

As my interest in urban farming has grown, I've become aware that a greenhouse is more than just a luxury location for potted flowers. A greenhouse is an urban farming tool that can significantly expand the seasons in spring and fall. 

Last summer we purchased a greenhouse kit on sale for $350 at our local home supply store. It was a humble kit for a 6x8 foot greenhouse with aluminum frame and 6mm polycarbonate twin walls. There is a sliding door in one end and a small roof vent in the top to allow for air exchange.

The boxes waited in the garage until Labor Day weekend when my work crew leveled a site, built a concrete block foundation and assembled the kit on a heavy wood base. The floor is crushed gravel to allow for drainage beneath containers.

We decided to build a raised bed along one of the 8 foot wall lengths. The other half of the greenhouse is open floor, which allows flexibility in terms of container plants, shelves for seed starting, or general winter storage.

For the fall months, we planted spinach, swiss chard and lettuce in the raised bed. We moved in herbs and peppers in containers. Our greenhouse crops did nicely until Thanksgiving. After that, we tucked it away for the winter months. But spring is flirting with us, and I'll be posting more about activities in the greenhouse.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mid-winter Greens

Six weeks ago I purchased a bag of fresh spinach at my local indoor farmer's market. Although it made wonderful salad, the cost ($4.50 a bag) inspired me to start my own indoor greens. I soon planted spinach, swiss chard and leaf lettuce in bowls and placed them on my lighted plant cart. This week I'll begin to harvest some of those tender greens. Why didn't I think of this in November?
Meanwhile, my chickens have spring fever, too. They rush the door when we open it, nearly tripping over each other trying to get outside unless, of course, it has snowed again. Snow brings them to a dead stop at the threshold, where they contemplate how badly they want to brave the weather.

Here they are enjoying leftover salad greens from the grocery store.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yesterday was Spring

Spring in this part of the country is a fickle thing.

Yesterday was spring----I hung jeans out on the clothesline and mopped up leaking water in the greenhouse. The chickens enjoyed pecking around in the mud and there were large patches of open grass.

The Canada geese have been returning for a few weeks. We've also caught fleeting glimpses of other migrating water fowl, probably little grebes who keep a low profile and hide shyly when people are around. The Sandhill Cranes are also returning with their loud, rattling call flying overhead. I even heard the familiar call of Redwing Blackbirds when driving through a swampy area earlier this week. My mother-in-law used to say that the Robins always returned on March 8 regardless of the weather.

But in spite of the all signs of spring, this morning we awoke to five inches of fresh snow. It's the heavy, sticky kind of snow that can really do number on your back when shoveling. The greenhouse is covered in a thick layer, which is slowly slipping off the edge of the roof panels.
Looks as if I'd better go shovel a little patch for the chickens. Perhaps tomorrow it will be spring again.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Selecting Seeds

We started receiving seed catalogs in the mail at the end of the calendar year, before the Christmas decorations were put away. I don't mind; it's wonderfully healing to sit in front of the fireplace and dream about next year's crops.

For many years, I've been a loyal customer of my local garden center. I love their expertise and their willingness to answer silly questions without laughing at me. I appreciate that they stay open year around. It's lovely to visit the store in mid-winter for a dose of inspiration. The garden center merged with a local seed company 20 years ago, so seeds have always been available. I have confidence that plants and seeds sold there will surely grow in my region. Unfortunately, I've also become more aware of the strong smell of garden chemicals in that store.

During the course of mid-winter research, I learned that some seed companies have taken a Safe Seed Pledge in which they promise to sell seeds that have not been genetically modified. Although I wasn't entirely sure of the implications of genetically modified seed, I decided to patronize some of these companies. I jumped on the internet and ordered several seed catalogs, then waited for them to arrive in the mail.

I've learend that gardeners plant heirloom seeds to produce old-fashioned fruits like our grandparents might have grown. There is an urgency to preserve these genetically pure plants. Heirloom and open-pollinated seeds can be saved from one season to the next and continue to produce reliable crops that are the same as the parent plant.

Gardeners may chose to plant F1 hybrid seeds, bred from two different parent plants to produce an improved plant. Sometimes a hybrid will be more well-suited to a particular climate or region, or perhaps a hybrid is bred for particular sweetness or disease resistance. Hybrid seeds will not produce strong, reliable crops if saved for the next season.

There is increasing concern about genetically modified seed, in which unrelated genetic material is bred. The long-term results of this are still unknown, and many gardeners are cautious about using this.

After my new catalogs arrived in the mail, I spent several evenings in my chair at the fireplace, circling all my favorites with a red pen. I was like a little kid in a candy shop. The photographs in the catalogs were gorgeous, and the descriptions made me want to order one of nearly everything. It was difficult to narrow down my choices, but I finally placed an order and waited for the seeds to arrive.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Urban Homesteading" trademarked

Today was an Action Day by a Facebook group called "Take Back Urban Homesteading." I'm not clear on all the details, but I'll try to summarize the basics in order to raise general awareness.

Evidently, there is a homesteading family in California that has somehow copyrighted or trademarked the phrase "urban homestead." Any person, group, organization, blog or website using the words "urban homestead" for their own project will soon get a letter threatening legal action. This has caused a surge of outrage against the California family. It's certainly not working in their favor; they have alienated many of their friends and clients associated with their various businesses related to urban homesteading.

Homesteading has been part of American culture for a couple centuries. For some families, it's not a business, it's a way of life. It's certainly not a copyright. It's astonishing that one family thinks that they own a concept so old, and it's shameful that they try to trademark the phrase for their own profit. Good grief.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

This is what democracy looks like (farm style)

For nearly three weeks, my state has been embroiled in bitter political battles. There have been nearly continuous protests and rallies at the state capitol in support of workers' right to collectively bargain.

Evidently, the protest has also arrived in the hen house at Red Bucket Farm.

For months my hens have dutifully laid their eggs in the clean nest boxes provided in the safety zone at the far corner of the hen house. Suddenly, the girls have decided they need new working conditions. They're laying eggs in the danger zone at the top of the ladder, where their eggs might roll out of the hen house. This is also directly beneath the roost, where it gets soiled nightly. Rosie the Red Star and Hyacinth the Easter Egger are in solidarity about this. Wisteria prefers her extra large nest.

Since I'm trying to listen to the needs of the workers, I moved a nest box into their preferred corner. It's about compromise, right? Rosie approved the new working conditions by laying a large brown egg there this morning. I've baited the safety zone nest boxes with golf balls, hoping the girls will take the hint. But as long as the protest continues, I'll clean the danger zone nest carefully and hope to keep the workers happy.

This is what democracy looks like. On the farm, anyway.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bird Brains!

My chickens are privileged. Pampered. Probably even spoiled.

Life is good at Red Bucket Farm for three lovely hens. They live in the "casa gallina," which is a freestanding fortress for poultry. They have a solid roof, hardware cloth screened walls, and reinforced wood flooring with plenty of bedding materials. The elevated hen house is well-insulated with a sturdy roost for sleep at night. It also has a ceiling vent at one end, and a pop-hole for their ladder at the other end, allowing for ventilation without draft. They have free access to let themselves in and out of the hen house whenever the mood strikes. Since I don't like the stink, I tend to keep it all rather clean.

When the girls arrived at maturity last fall, we provided nesting boxes for them to lay their egss. For my own amusement, the nest boxes are painted fun colors. The girls seemed to like the nest boxes and dutifully left me their eggs in the nests.

Once Wisteria the Columbian Wyandotte started laying eggs in late December, we had a new twist in our system. Wisteria didn't feel comfortable squeezing her large fluffy bottom into those cute nest boxes, so she would create her own nest in the hay. That would have been fine, except that she chose the least desirable location in the whole coop: directly at the top of the ladder and beneath the roost. It's icky there. Chickens normally poop quite a bit at nighttime, so cleaning up under their roost is a daily chore. (It makes wonderful compost, but that's another blog entry.) That location is also a bit dangerous since they could easily drop their eggs down the ladder. I quickly provided a larger nest for Wisteria. It's a coir basket liner for hanging garden baskets, and it makes a lovely nest when filled with hay. For the most part, Wisteria likes this place.

This morning I went out to clean the coop and gather eggs. The girls are happy and egg production is up, so I was shocked to find zero eggs in the nests! Instead, I found two eggs (thank you Rosie and Hyacinth) in a makeshift nest at the top of the ladder, in the poopiest corner imaginable.
I gathered the eggs, cleaned the poop and pushed the hay back into the corner again. I can't predict when the girls will build their own nests or use the clean boxes that I've provided. For now, I'll just enjoy the personalities of each bird and appreciate the fresh eggs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let the sunshine in!

I am a tree hugger, I admit it. After all, there are so many reasons to love a tree. They provide blissful relief from summer's heat and valuable wind break from winter's chill. Trees are shelter for song birds and squirrels, home to owls and woodpeckers, hunting perches for hawks. I love the sound of the wind through their leaves. Trees consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen, thus purifying our air and protecting our planet from human attack. A good tree has form, beauty and function. I simply love trees.

Except for one little problem. My growing passion for urban farming has caused me to glare annoying at some of the trees in my own yard. How can I possibly grow crops with only a couple hours of direct sunlight? What benefit is my little greenhouse when it's shaded most of the day? Will my raspberries ever stop reaching for the sunlight and get down to the business of making berries?

We were blessed with a well-developed yard when we bought this place six years ago. There is a mature honeylocust tree which forms a large canopy over the front yard. There is an equally huge maple tree shading my back patio and deck. Both of the side yards were covered in a thick mat of suckering hydrangea bushes. The hill behind the garage was covered in nine (yes, count them) sprawling juniper bushes. But the crowning glory of my backyard was six enormous spruce trees, each of them approximately 40 years old, towering over the entire property.

Over the last few years, I've trimmed the lower branches of the spruce trees and pondered their fate. Late last summer we removed the smallest one to make space for the greenhouse. Finally, this winter we decided to become dedicated urban farmers. We hired a tree company to remove three of the remaining five spruce trees. And the fateful day was yesterday.

I was excited and nervous. I thought it would be a bittersweet day and that I might mourn the loss of these healthy trees. Nobody was more surprised than me when I found myself cheering for the tree guys. I was happily taking photographs and singing "Let the sunshine in" (while visions of the Fifth Dimension pranced through my head.) I performed a little jig when the trunks finally crashed to the ground. It was an amazing day. By suppertime last night, I could see all the way back to the chicken coop. The greenhouse was no longer hiding behind the spruce trees, the raised beds were clearly visible under the snow. For the first time, I could watch the sunset over the woods.

We have no lack of trees. There are still dozens of spruce trees visible from my dining room window. But now, with a little luck and good compost, perhaps I'll be able to grow a respectable crop of tomatoes. Maybe my raspberries will stop reaching so desperately for the sunlight and finally get down to the business of growing berries. And the huge pile of spruce mulch in my driveway will slowly return to the land.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Happy Chickens Lay More Eggs

Managing my small flock of backyard chickens has been enormously rewarding. I have a handful of hens, each of them a different breed. They are all beautiful, winter-hardy and dual-purpose, whichs means that they lay eggs well and can also be harvested for the soup pot after their egg-producing days are over. I've enjoyed watching them grow from chicks to pullets (teenagers) and later to fully mature hens.

Rosie is my Red Star hybrid. She matured quickly and began laying large brown eggs at exactly four months of age. Rosie lays an egg every day regardless of cold or daylength. She's friendly with people and seems to get along with the other hens.

Delphinium is a Dominique, a true American heritage breed. She began laying tan-colored eggs at about five months of age, perhaps three or four eggs per week. She took about six weeks off in the middle of the winter and refused to lay eggs between Dec. 4 and Jan. 17.

Hyacinth is an Easter Egger, a hybrid that produces green eggs. She began laying eggs at five months and continued to produce right through the darkest part of the winter. This bird was nicknamed "Hysterical Hyacinth" because of her timid behavior.

Finally, Wisteria is a Columbian Wyandotte. She is our largest bird and the slowest to mature. She began to lay eggs at the end of her seventh month, but now she's a good layer of tan eggs. Wisteria is all about food, all the time. And she produces very large poops!

Pecking order in the flock is very real. At night, the dominant bird roosts in the middle of the huddle so the other girls will keep her warm. This is especially important in sub-zero weather. She's also the most aggressive when it comes to extra snacks.

Although I visit my hens at least twice a day, I couldn't ascertain which bird was truly the boss. I liked that my girls seemed rather democratic and there was peace in the coop.

Until mid-January. After several consecutive nights of sub-zero temperatures, Hyacinth the timid Easter Egger started to slow down. Her comb was pale. She didn't seem interested in food. And she allowed me to pick her up and hug her, which was highly unusual behavior for her. After a call to our veterinarian, we decided to bring her inside to warm up. We reassembled our brooder box and brought her indoors.

As she recuperated, we recalled snowshoeing past the coop at night and observing Hyacinth outside the huddle of hens. No wonder the poor thing was failing! After a couple nights in the Poultry Hilton she seemed to perk up. The weather returned to above zero temps, so I took her back outside to join the flock.

This was the moment when I learned that Delphinium is the Big Boss. She walked directly to Hyacinth and pecked her on the head so hard I thought it might kill her. Chicken fights are ugly and Hyacinth would not defend herself. I quickly brought her indoors again. I attempted another reunion later in the day but it was clear that this would not be successful. So I did the only thing any self-respecting mom would do: I gave Delphinium a time-out. She spent the next night in the Poultry Hilton and she was not pleased.

Our subsequent attempts at reunion made it perfectly clear that Delphinium was not only aggressive toward Hyacinth, but she was also quite aggressive towards me. I've never been threatened by a chicken before, but her intentions were clear. So we made the difficult decision to find her a new home. We couldn't afford to keep a bully who was only a moderate layer of eggs, especially with new chicks coming in a month. Fortunately, Delphinium found a new home on a hobby farm with llama and sheep, and she provides her new owners with a few eggs per week.

Meanwhile, Hyacinth the Easter Egger was quite traumatized. It has taken her three weeks to recover after Delphinium's departure. For two weeks she hid in the coop and refused to step outside, but she has finally started laying her beautiful green eggs once again. Happy chickens really do lay more eggs.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Building Backyard Hives

Last spring our three cherry trees bloomed prolifically and we expected a healthy harvest. By mid-summer, however, we ended up with only a few cups of beautiful cherries, enough to bake one pie. We attributed our reduced harvest to lack of pollination.

Honeybees have been in the news frequently over the last few years. There are enough bugs, viruses and syndromes to make my head spin, and the current monoculture of farming isn't providing a healthy environment for the bees. Studies have shown that keeping backyard bees can contribute to the returning health of the honeybees, and backyard beekeepers are learning that a hands-off, chemical-free approach is producing good results. Also, backyard beekeeping raises garden production substantially, and backyard bees have a wider variety of crops to forage. It's a win-win situation.

In November I ordered two packages of bees from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms. A package consists of three pounds of bees (about 20,000) plus a queen. They are delivered by USPS in a wood-framed box with screening. The queen is in her own small box within the larger box so the worker bees can attend to her. I'm expecting delivery of the bees in late April or early May.

There are various styles of beehives. The most common is the Langstroth hive which is the bee condo, the stack of boxes that you may have seen at the edges of farms. It was developed in the 1850s primarily for commercial production of honey. The brood nest is in the bottom box and the bees build their stores of honey in the upper boxes. Each honey box can weigh between 50 and 100 pounds when harvested. This kind of heavy lifting doesn't appeal to me, so we're looking at another style of hive called Top Bar Hive. A top bar hive is a long, low box that allows the bees to build their brood comb and honey comb in a horizontal manner. Honey is harvested more frequently as the hive box fills up and there is no heavy lifting involved. Some folks think that bees raised in top bar hives are more gentle because their habitat is disrupted less than when a Langstroth hive is disassembled for harvest.

There are plenty of small businesses on the internet that are selling top bar hives. Many of their websites are enormously helpful and they seem like a wonderful group of people concerned about the health of our planet. But as usual, it all costs more than my limited budget will allow, so my trusty husband stepped in to build our own. He's finishing our first test hive. It's a box about four feet long, about 15 inches wide at the top and ten inches wide at the bottom. The sides are tapered so the honeycomb will be harvested more easily. He's added a window on one side so we can peek in and watch the bees work their magic. The worker bees will build comb from the top bar guides at the top of the hive. We won't use any plastic comb foundation. After all, the bees will know what to do without our help. They've been doing it for centuries.