Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Garden 2020 update

In the Garden

This blog is going to be short and sweet.  The garden did okay but last year it was better (insert sad face here).  Here is a video tour of the garden so most of the information can be found in that...

We had a bumper crop of onions.  I harvested them yesterday and laid them out to dry.  Last year, I kind of layered them on top of each other for drying and then they started to mold while in storage.  I think it is really important to keep them all separated so they can cure and dry out completely.
I like to store carrots and beets in our root cellar.  I pack them in damp sand.  
I also do a lot of drying.  I pick flowers and let them air dry.  These will be fed to the chickens and ducks as treats this winter.  Here is a pic of some nasturtium and yarrow flowers.  We also harvest lavender, marigold, chamomile, calendula, and probably some other things that I am forgetting...parsley, sage, dill and comfry foliage...
Pic of lettuce (saving for seed), eggplant and watermelon vines in the water trough raised bed...
I think that one problem is that we put new wood chips down on the garden and I did not dig down far enough to get things rooted in the soil below when I planted.  I enjoy the Back-to-Eden style gardening for some things (tomatoes, squash, and corn) but it seems that the raised beds did better this year.  We will be making some more raised beds this fall for next years garden.
Happy gardening!


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Chasing the swarm


I knew the top bar hive was doing well.  In fact it was doing so well that the bees were running out of room!  They were literally spilling out of the hive...this pic was taken early last week...
A responsible beekeeper would have taken the time to split the hive.  See...the bees were making a new queen in a swarm cell.  The upside down cup-looking cells are queen cells in the pic below.  Once the queen emerges from the cell, she leaves the hive and takes about half of the bees with her in a swarm.  It only takes 16 days for a queen to go from egg to larvae and then into queen!
I have seen a swarm before but I have never actually seen the "swarming" of the bees out of the hive.  Last Thursday afternoon, I just happened to actually see the swarming (but I didn't actually know what was going on) and I filmed it!
It was something out of a sci-fi movie.  There were bees everywhere and they were buzzing so LOUDLY!  The bees finally landed in the top of an apple tree.  At this point, they send out little scouting bees to find a new home.  When they find a good place to start a new home, the scouting bee come back and lead the swarm away to their new home.
Once I knew where the swarm had landed, I called my friend, Alison, because she has a special 5 gallon bucket on the end of a pole that you can use to capture a swarm.  Here is a pic of a similar swarm catcher...
Unfortunately, even with bucket on a pole, I could not reach the swarm.  It was in the very top of the apple tree.  So, Henry got a ladder and I climbed to the top of a 10 foot ladder and hoisted the bucket-on-a-pole up into the air.  We did not bother to put on any bee suits.  I told Henry not to worry because bees in a swarm are friendly because they do not have any hive to defend.  Then, I jammed the bucket up into the swarm and the bees went crazy!  They started flying everywhere!  I got stung on the neck and Henry got stung on his head.  Abort, abort, abort!

So, I started to think of what else I could do to capture the swarm.  First thing I did was to go to Bed, Bath and Beyond to get some lemongrass essential oil.  Did you know that bees are attracted to the scent of lemongrass?  It's true.  I got back home and set up a swarm trap that I made out of an old nuc box.  I put a bunch of lemongrass in the trap.  Maybe, if I got lucky, the swarm would go into the trap...
I also put some of the lemongrass in my Langstroth hive.  I had gotten bees for the Langstroth hive in May but they did not make it ($160 down the drain!).  I figured that if I caught the swarm, I could put it in the Langstroth hive.  We put on some bee suits and I tried two more times to get the bees that evening.  I caught a few hundred bees each time and dumped them into the Langstroth but I could not get the entire swarm.  It's very difficult to balance a 5 gallon bucket on the end of a 10 foot pole on top while standing on top of a 10 foot ladder!

The next morning, we tried one more time to catch the swarm but we were still unsuccessful.  That afternoon, the swarm was gone...bummer...

I looked into the top bar hive and I saw more queen cells that were early in their development.  I took a couple of these bars out of the top bar hive and put them into the Langstroth.  My hope is that the few bees that I got off the swarm would take care of the developing queen and she would hatch and they would keep her as their leader.  This is really unconventional so I would not suggest anyone follow this advice.  The components of a top bar hive and a Langstroth hive are not interchangeable.  The top bars are the ones with the numbers on them in this pic...
I am not upset that the bees swarmed and went away.  That is part of beekeeping.  It is actually a win that the bees were doing so well that they had to swarm.  I just wish I could have caught that swarm and put it in the Langstroth hive.

In a perfect world, I would have had an empty top bar hive to split the hive into.  I have been thinking about getting another hive of each.  The reason I have the Langstroth hive in the first place is because my top bar hive swarmed a couple of years ago and I was able to catch that swarm.  Here is a blog post that I did when we caught that swarm, just click HERE.  After we caught the swarm, I ran to the local farm store and bought the Langstroth hive to put the swarm in to it.  Top bar hives are not as common as the Langstroth hives so you you can't just go to the farm store and buy one.  Also, hives are not cheap so that is why I have not gotten around to getting more.  The beekeeping started as a 4-H project for Joshua and I have kind of taken it over and have been on the fence about how much I want to do with it.  I really enjoy it but don't feel like I have the time...

The swarming happened over a week ago (not this past Thursday and Friday but the week before).  I mention this because I checked on the Langstroth hive yesterday and the queen bee cells were all capped.  This means that the new queen may be emerging soon!  I also got stung again...pro-tip...lavender essential oil is really good at taking the pain of the sting out right away!

I will make sure to give a hive update in September when I do the summer review...to be continued...

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Feeding eggs to pets

We buy, what I consider to be, very good dog food (Hills Science Diet) for our livestock guardian dogs.  My sister actually works at Hills Science Diet in Kansas.  Providing a healthy diet to pets is important BUT it's also great to give a treat every now and then.  Eggs are a great treat for dogs and cats.
Yeti having some scrambled eggs on top of her dry dog food
Eggs provide an excellent source of fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and protein.  Essentially the entire egg, including the eggshell, can be nutritious for dogs.  The most important thing is to cook the egg and NOT feed it to them raw.  They might get Salmonella poisoning from consuming raw eggs.
It is best to cook and feed the entire egg to dogs.  Feeding only the egg whites can lead to a biotin deficiency.  There are also lots of great minerals in the egg shell.  Just make sure to chop it up really well. The best ways to cook eggs to feed to dogs is either to hard boil the egg or scramble the eggs.

Cooked egg whites are the best way to feed eggs to cats.  With cats, it's important to keep in mind that egg yolks contain fat and not all cats need more fat in their diet.  I know our house cat sure doesn't need any extra fat in her diet!  I tried to feed some eggs to our barn cats but they did not seem interested and did not eat them.
Beck, our house cat, helping me type up this blog...
I have even scrambled up extra eggs we have and fed them back to the chickens and ducks!  They love them especially the ducks!  Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of extra eggs right now.  They are being sold almost before they are laid!  Of course, I save all the eggshells and feed them back to the girls for a little extra calcium boost.

It seems that feeding a raw diet is all the rage now.  I have not done much research about this.  I just have not had the time.  I barely have time to make it to the pet store to buy a bag of food.  However, I get the feeling that some of our pets are doing their own part to eat a raw diet...

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Winter and Spring 2020 review

On the Farm and In the Wetzel Home

I like to give an update at the end of each season.  This is usually just random information about what we are doing on the farm that does not really fit into a "regular" blog post.  I never did a Winter 2020 update in March.  This is when the COVID-19 was starting to happen and I think I must have just been busy trying to figure out our new normal and forgot to do a post.  So, here is my attempt to remember what has happened this past winter and spring...

New Strawberry and Raspberry Beds
This project was started last fall when we made the new raised beds.  Then, the strawberry plants came this spring.  Hopefully, we will have strawberries next year!  One bed is an everbearing variety and one is a june bearing strawberry.  I took this pic a couple of weeks ago and the plants have already doubled in size so I feel like they are off to a good start!
We also started some Golden and Black Raspberry areas on the farm.  I didn't bother to take a pic of them because there is literally not much to see there.  I just planted the black raspberries last week so they are super small but they all look good.

Cage to Protect Seed Producing Plants in Chicken Run
Planted some broom corn, amaranth and borage (side note - borage is not really a seed producing plant but I had some extra plants so I just put them in there and the plant is super nutritious for chickens and the flowers are beautiful and edible!) in a "cage" within the chicken/duck run...I also put some sunflower seeds in there.  Why did I do this?  I am hoping the broom corn, amaranth and sunflowers will grow up and then drop seeds into the run for the girls.  Just something fun for them to look forward to.  Also, it will provides a little "green" in the dirt run area.

Indoor Home Improvement Project
A little home improvement project in the basement area...painted the walls and trim and had new curtains made!  This is a before pic...
Here is the after pic...it really helped to lighten it up down there.  
We also lightened up the red brick fireplace by "distressing it" and adding the white to it.  Again, it really helped to lighten it up in there.  Now, I am just trying to decide about what to do with the wood paneling on two walls.  Initially, I was going to have it painted too but now I am having second thoughts...

Outdoor Home Improvement Project
Cooper had to find a new place to sleep...
Put in a little mini pond in front of the house.  We are going to have to re-do this area because the animals like to drink from the pond and the vegetation is all dying.  It's a bit of a challenging area too...mostly shade except for hot afternoon sun.
Once I got the pond "established", we put in some water plants and tried to plant some flowers right around the base of the pond.  Here is a pic of Dumpling getting a drink!

More Cages to Protect Plants!
I know this is a bit hard to see.  The rabbits are a complete nuisance and eat down my trees and blueberry bushes!  So, I had to buy these wire cloches to protect them (these cloches are 20 inches high).  This is an oak tree that I am trying to get started in the future pig pen...I also have a ring of hardware cloth around it to protect it from the voles but this doesn't always work.  I lost 2 of the 5 oak trees to voles already.
Here is a cheaper plant protecting hack.  I bought this "metal" trash can at the DollarTree for $1!  Just place it upside down over plants you want to protect.  It is about 10 inches deep/tall so it is good for smaller plants.  
I guess I am going to try and figure out a way to build a big cage over the blueberry raised bed this fall.  The rabbits don't seem to bother the blueberries during the growing season but really go to town and eat them down to the ground in the winter (when there is not much else to eat).

So, that is it for now.  I did plant 4 more fruit trees this spring - a cherry, apricot, asian pear and honeycrisp apple.  I had planted some nice size walnut trees last fall and they did not make it.  BUT the hazelnut and chestnuts that I had planted last fall are doing good...so far...

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Joshua Update

In Salt Lake...

Our youngest son, Joshua, is currently at a residential treatment center (Benchmark) in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (If you are not familiar with the situation, you can read all about it in this previous blog post.)  We were planning a trip to visit him the end of March.  However, with the COVID-19 happening, we had to cancel our plans.  The facility where Joshua is staying is still in lockdown.  We are waiting for the facility to allow "passes" again for family visits and then we will go down and see him again in person.  Can't wait!

I had always suspected that Joshua had some depression and anxiety.  He also has pretty severe mood swings.  In January, Joshua was assessed by the psychiatrist at Benchmark.  He was given a bipolar diagnosis.  I had also suspected this.  If  you did not know, Joshua also has an autism diagnosis.  Autism is a developmental disability.  Bipolar is a mental health diagnosis.  So now, Joshua has a dual diagnosis. 

Some good news...

The good news is that Joshua had made some great progress with his treatment.  There are 4 phases to the treatment at Benchmark.  Joshua has been in Phase 1 since he started there in April 2019.  It has been going really slow.  Joshua does not seem to be in any hurry to complete his treatment.  He worries about coming home and hurting us.  Last week, we finally got some good news that he completed Phase 1.  FINALLY!!! 

We have been told that Phase 2 is much quicker to complete.  Then, Phase 3 is a little longer again.  Phase 4 is basically getting everything put in place for Joshua to come back home.  Right now, that is the plan...for him to come back home.  Some kids go to a type of Group home before being assimilated back in to the family but we are fairly certain that he will be coming back home.  As a side note, his release date is October 2020 but I don't believe he is going to have his treatment completed by that time so this will likely be extended.

More good news...

Last week, Joshua began our family therapy session by asking if the Principal had called us.  I was really confused (and started feeling a little dread - usually a call from the Principal is not good news).  However, it appears that Joshua is doing so well in school that they need permission for him to take some extra classes.  This could lead to him graduating early.  My feeling of dread then disappeared and turned to elation.  The Principal needed our permission to allow for this.  Joshua is REALLY excited at the prospect of finishing high school early.

To give some perspective, when Joshua was 14, before he went to Benchmark, he was perseverating and obsessing about the fact that he could drop out of high school when he turned 16.  Joshua just turned 16 on May 14th.  Obviously, school is going well for him at Benchmark.  I am pretty sure that we will try the alternative high school when/if he gets back home before he graduates.  Moscow High was just too much for him.
Overall, he does sound really good when we talk with him on the phone.  It is great to hear him talking positively about school.  This is something I never thought would be possible.  We can't wait to be able to see him again!

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Poultry nutrition and Omega 3's

Feeding the girls...

I was nervous about feeding the chickens and ducks when we first got them.  If you Google something like "make your own chicken feed," you will get a LOT of opinions about how to make a balanced feed ration.  Here are a couple of things we learned:

1.  Growing ducks need niacin
If ducklings do not get enough niacin, they will have leg abnormalities, failure to thrive, lack of weight gain, seizures, and eventually death.  Luckily, it is easy to make sure ducklings get enough niacin by feeding specially made waterfowl starter and grower feed.  You can also put niacin in their water or add brewers yeast to their feed.

2. Growing chicks do not need too much calcium
Calcium is needed in adult chickens so the egg shells are nice and strong.  BUT growing chicks can have kidney problems if they get too much calcium.  Also, they can get rickets if they have too much calcium.  Again, these problems are easy to avoid if the correct starter and growing feeds are used for growing chicks.

3.  Protein requirements change for growing poultry.
Chicks need a high level of protein so they can get a good start.  As the birds age, they need less protein and that is adjusted in the type of feed they eat (starter vs. grower. vs. layer feeds).

4. Supplementing...

Black Oil Sunflower seeds

We also give sunflower seeds as a treat.  I have read that you can feed 15-30% of their daily ration in black oil sunflower seeds.  We don't feed quite that much...more like 10%.  We bring it out to them in the afternoon and they LOVE them.

Benefits to feeding black oil sunflowers to laying hens include:
The oil in the sunflower seeds is good for their feathers
An increase in egg production
Vitamin E to protect immune system 
Great source of protein
Rich in antioxidants


Our birds are all out on pasture right now so they are getting green grass each day.  In the winter, we are going to start adding some flaxseed to the chickens to keep the omega 3 fatty acid level up in the eggs.  Flax seed is high in protein, oil and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

Omega 3's

Let me go down the Omega 3 rabbit hole here for a minute...I am going to try to keep this simple (click on any underlined text for more information)...

Omega 3's are good for you and most people do not get enough of them. 
You have probably heard of Omega 6's.  Most people get plenty of Omega 6.  The problem is that omega 3 and omega 6 are metabolised by the same enzymes, so if there is a flood of omega 6 in the body, omega 3 may not be available to the body in the required levels, even if sufficient quantities are consumed.

Grass fed animals have more omega 3 in their bodies.  For example, animals being outside and feeding on grass and plants has a big impact on the fat composition and may increase the amount of omega-3s in meat by as much as 25% while lowering harmful saturated fats.  The same is true with eggs from chickens that are out on pasture!  More omega 3's!

Take home message: eating eggs from pastured hens are good for you because they have more omega 3!

We purchased feed from the feed store at the beginning.  Now, we get our feed from a local grower and supplier.  It is non-GMO and does not have soybean in it.  I think it is mostly barley and peas. 

Not the most eggciting topic but this is something that we think about a lot as poultry egg farmers...have a great day!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Gifted a family heirloom!

The Wetzel side

Maybe egg farming and delivery is in our blood.  Mark's great grandfather (Henry Charles Wetzel, Sr.) was a farmer and sold eggs!  He also had dairy cows and delivered milk/eggs.  Recently, Mark's great aunt Louise sent us the egg scale that he used on his farm.  What a great piece of family history!  
Mark's great grandfather's egg scale that he used on his farm from 1935-1955
Here is a picture of Louise and Butch (Mark's grandfather aka Henry Charles Wetzel, Jr.) on the farm as kids.  They say they remember their father sitting at the kitchen table with fine sandpaper, cleaning the straw and "chicken dirt" off of each egg.  Then he would place them in the egg cartons and deliver them to his customers.

Henry Charles Wetzel Sr. (Mark's great grandfather) bought a farm in 1935 and married in 1943.  They left the farm in 1955.  Before becoming a farmer, Henry Wetzel Sr. was a professional golfer.  We even have a trophy of his that has been made into a lamp!
Trophy says "Henry Wetzel North British Annual Trophy Won By"
FYI: Henry Charles Wetzel Jr. (aka Butch) was a golf course superintendent for over 38 years.  Mark's dad (Henry Charles Wetzel III) has a degree in plant pathology and specializes in turf pathology (as in golf course diseases).  So, it seems that farming and golfing run in the Wetzel blood!  What an interesting combination...

Mark's maternal grandfather was a milk delivery man!

The Klenda side

My maiden name is Klenda.  I grew up in Kansas on a small diversified farm.  Our family had a farrow to finish hog operation and raise beef cattle.  My dad also grows wheat and other grains.  

My great uncle Paul and great aunt Dorthy (on my mom's side), had an industrial chicken egg operation.  They did not live far from us.  As a child, I remember going to their egg barn, sitting down at a desk, pushing a button, and a little conveyor belt would just bring all the eggs down to the desk area.  Then, you worked like crazy to pick up all the eggs and put them into big flats.  We loved finding the squishy eggs that had not developed a hard shell.  

After I left home and went to college, my Aunt Julie (on my dad's side) started a free range chicken egg business.  She also lives really close to my parents.  Every summer, I remember going to her house for chicken butchering day.  It was truly a family affair and everyone had their job (scalding, picking, eviscerating, etc...).  In the summer of 2015, I took Mark and Joshua to visit her when we were trying to determine if an egg business might be a good fit for Mark.  
Aunt Julie's free range egg farm
Aunt Julie's egg business is truly free range, there are no fences anywhere.  There are shelters for the chickens to go into at night but other than that, they just roam all over their farm.  I think the name of her egg business is Cackleberry Eggs.

Mark's egg business will probably not get to the scale of these other egg businesses.  BUT we are only in phase 1 of the business.  We plan on growing and adding more egg laying chickens/ducks this fall and next year (phase 2 and phase 3 expansions).

I have relatives with egg businesses on both ends of the spectrum...industrial and free range.  Henry's grandfather used to farm and sell eggs/milk.  Does everyone else have egg farming in their families?  

Have an Eggcellent Day!