Summertime & Strawberry Wine

It was in the Spring of 2016 when Dan and I bought and bottled our first ever wine kit. We had been spending a lovely date day in St. Albert and ,while sipping margaritas at our favourite taco bar, noticed a little wine shop next door. We went in for “just a peek” and left with every thing we would need to start our very first wine! Since then, we have bottled over 30 different kits, equaling just over 900 bottles of wine. Reds to whites, ice wines to ports and fruity little numbers in between, we even bottled two separate varieties for our friend’s wedding reception a couple summers ago.

To say we were hooked would be an understatement.

The first time we played around with a fermentation all on our own was the Fall of 2016. I had met a local honey producer while working at the Farm Store and was able to buy a ten pound pail of honey from him. We had wanted to try making mead and this was the perfect opportunity. Unlike wine, where the grape juice provides your sugar content for the yeast to work, mead requires the fermentation of honey. We had done a little research, looked up some recipes and went to work. We bottled the mead in November 2016 and didn’t drink a sip for six months. A light taste, almost like a Pinot Grigio, we decided we liked mead and would need some bees of our own one day. Fast forward to today, we are working with five hives and hope to one day have enough honey to play around with more mead and fine tune our own recipes. We found our last bottle of mead just last month during a wine cupboard clean out. We are saving it for a hot Summer’s eve to enjoy around the fire!

After that we thought we should try a fruit fermentation, and what better to start with than some wild foraged berries and fruit right from our own farm. Summer 2017 we harvested rhubarb from the garden, picked wild raspberries out along the back cutline and collected Saskatoon berries from my Father in Law’s farm and made our first fruit wines. A little more on the dry side, these wines were pretty good for our first attempts. Unfortunately we didn’t get to taste these wines aged for very long as we had a bit of an accident mid winter with the heater in our garage. We lost most of our true home brew wines and almost half of our wine stock when the heater quit working and everything froze.

We started 2018 off by trying something completely new to us. After a roadtrip through Ontario in the fall, we came home with four gallons of pure Ontario maple syrup from the Martin’s sugar bush. We found a recipe for an alcohol called Acerglyn (or maple mead) and we bottled it at the end of January 2018. Comparable to a buttery Chardonnay, with a slight smokiness it aged well with time and I believe we only have a couple bottles lingering in our storages. We also made our first attempt at a cider, buying apples across Canada as we roadtripped home. Using a grape press we had purchased along the way, we cleaned, cut and crushed the apples for their juice and fermented it down to our Cross Canada Cider. Something we will definitely have to play around with again one day!

Last summer we played around again with a rhubarb and saskatoon wine, this time introducing some new techniques like back sweetening, adding sugar syrup at the end of fermentation before bottling for a sweeter finished wine. The saskatoons we used were frozen first and this gave the wine a syrupy finish, more like a dessert wine. We also used up the rest of the syrup we had and attempted another maple wine, this time using a different recipe and back sweetening at the end with a smoked maple bourbon to finish. We look forward to sampling this one this coming Winter as it was recommended to age for a whole year in the bottle before tasting!

So here we are, Summertime again and already in the thick of fermenting some new creations! Which got me thinking, I should share some of our adventures, tips, tricks and recipes!


What basic equipment do you need to get started?

  • 1 primary fermentor
  • 1 glass carboy ( a second one is always nice to have for transfers)
  • 1 siphoning j-tube and hose
  • hydrometer
  • bottling thief
  • 1 rubber bung with airlock
  • stirring spoon
  • corker/corks
  • 30 bottles (750ml)

If you’re starting out with wine kits, the kit itself has everything you need inside to complete your wine start to finish; from yeast to acids to stabilizers. However, if you’re looking to start into makng fruit wines of your own, the following is a basic list of the most popular ingredients you’ll need.

Basic Ingredients to Have On Hand

  • EC-1118 wine Yeast
  • Tannin
  • Campden tablets
  • Yeast nutrient & yeast energizer
  • Acid blend
  • Pectic enzyme
  • Potassium metabisulphate

SIDE NOTE:

We like to keep on hand cheese cloth or straining bags when doing fruit wines. This helps to keep pulp and solids out of your wine, giving your finished product more clarity.

Now for the good stuff, what are you fermenting? There are endless possibilities when it comes to fermenting. Fruits, vegetables, grapes or honey. Our little purple recipe book even has a recipe for onion wine! No we have not tried that one yet but I am intrigued.

I’m sharing with you this year’s recipe and process for our first batch of strawberry wine.

Strawberry Wine Recipe

What You Need

15 lbs of Strawberries
5 gallons of water
10 lb sugar
5 tsp acid blend
1 1/4 tsp tannin
2 1/2 tsp pectic enzyme
5 tsp yeast nutrient
5 campden tablets, crushed
1 pkg yeast
straining bag or cheese cloth

Directions

1. It is best to use fully ripe berries. Remove stems or leaves and wash and drain your berries.
2. Using your straining bag, mash and strain out juice into your primary fermentor, making sure to keep all pulp and solids in your bag.
3. Add in all of your other ingredients, EXCEPT YEAST! Cover your primary loosely.
4. Let sit for 24 hours, then add yeast and cover again.
5. Stir daily, ensuring to press your strianing bag lightly to remove juices.
6. After about 5 days ( if using specific gravity you should be around 1.030), syphon off your wine into a glass secondary. Attach airlock.
7. After about 3 weeks ( or specific gravity of 1.000) syphon wine again into a clean secondary and reattach air lock.
8. For a clearer wine, rack again into clean secondary after two months and again before bottling.

NOTE:

This recipe is for a dry finished wine. If you would like a sweeter wine it can be backsweetened at bottling. To backsweeten, add 1/4 lb of dissolved sugar per gallon of wine prior to final transfer.

Our fruit wines usually sit in the glass secondary for about six months before we bottle and then we let them age for almost a year in the bottle before we drink them. For this particular batch, we added in dried elderflowers to change up the flavour profile.

I think one of the best parts about making your own wine is getting to create the labels for the finished product. We have a lot of fun building and creating our own labels for our wine creations.

Here are some samples of labels we’ve used recently:

Made your own batch of strawberry wine this Summer? We’d love to see your fermentation creations and share recipes! Tag us on Instagram or find some more of our wine ideas on Pinterest.

Grandma Mary’s Pickled Eggs

It seems that as of late we have found ourselves with a surplus of eggs here on the farm. With the world still a little guarded due to Covid and myself being on maternity leave, I have not been making my regular trips to town to sell our farm fresh eggs. Wanting for some space back on my counter tops meant I needed to get rid of some eggs…. and that could only mean one thing.

It was time for a batch of pickled eggs!

Off I went to the cookbook and pulled out my Grandma Mary’s trusted pickling recipe. Six jars of eggs and two jars of kolbasa later, now I’ve filled the fridge with jars and rid the counter of cartons.

A tangy treat that can be adjusted to suit your taste buds, I’m sharing our family recipe below!


Grandma Mary’s Pickled Eggs Recipe

Ingredients

2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp celery salt
1 tbsp mustard seed
6 whole cloves
1 bay leaf

Directions

Mix ingredients in large pot. Simmer for 10 minutes and let cool.
Pour over 12 hard boiled eggs and sliced onions.
Cover and refrigerate.
Let stand for at least two days before eating for best results.

Share with us your pickled creations by tagging us on Instagram or sharing on Pinterest!

Sun Tea for the Garden : A How to on Comfrey Tea Fertilizer

The first year we planted a garden here on the farm my husband had worked and worked to clear me a patch of land out of the old garden from the previous owners that had become over run. Tilling up the ground several times, he had it sitting waiting for me when I first moved in with him. Most of the plants we planted that season were pre-starts from local greenhouses and garden centers, but for my first ever vegetable garden, I sure was happy with the results!

Along the East side of the garden grew a large leafy plant with little purple bell flowers, which seemed to take over the entire side of the garden, and which I decided in the Fall needed to go. Had I known about this plant at all, I would not have been so quick to dig it up and dispose of it. Thankfully, the garden knew better than me and the following Spring, back came this plant like it had never been touched.

Symphytum; a flowering plant actually from the borage family, most commonly known as Comfrey. This is what I found out was growing along the edges of garden, and as I read more into this amazing plant, it all made sense why it was planted there and I was thankful it grew back! When we moved the garden last Summer I made sure to dig out several of the comfrey plants to move with it. There now sits one plant in each of the four corners of my vegetable garden, sporadic plants still left in the old garden which has been turned chicken run and a whole jungle of comfrey growing in and around our compost pile.

Comfrey has many amazing properties. It can be used in poultices or salves for healing ailments, aiding in pain therapy and inflammation reduction. The roots and leaves of the plant contain a property called allantoin which has shown to stimulate cell proliferation, promoting bone and wound healing. It’s medicinal use can be traced back as far as 400 BC, used by the Greeks and Romans, giving it the Latin name for “grow together”.

But, to me, where comfrey really shines is in the garden!

First off, the pretty little purple flowers are a big attractant for pollinators. While flowering, the comfrey is always busy with the biggest bumble bees and bustling honey bees. It also helps to provide shade and shelter for other pollinating insects under its large foliage, the plant growing to be as high as five feet tall.

Your soil will LOVE comfrey. This plant is considered to be a dynamic accumulator, meaning it’s deep taproots draw in both macro and micro nutrients from the soil, storing them within the plant, particularly in their large leaves. High in Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium, these three macro nutrients are the powerhouse for the perfect fertilizer ratio. It also contains levels of Calcium and Magnesium which your flowering vegetable plants will thank you for later! By keeping comfrey plants around the perimeter of our vegetable garden we ensure that each Fall when we till under the soil, the plants will be added in and given time to break down over winter. We also benefit from the plants growing around the compost pile, which die each year and break down into the matter decomposing. After several years of break down the compost is added to the garden soil as well.

Next year, one of our goals is to use a comfrey mulch for weed control in the garden. Mulching up the leaves and spreading them between the rows will act to keep weeds down by blocking out light and will benefit the soil as the leaves break down and are tilled into the ground each fall.

For the past three years one of the ways we use our comfrey for the garden is by making a tea fertilizer. We mix the tea half and half in a watering can with water and use it for watering the garden. This year it will be extra beneficial for all the tomatoes we have growing in our greenhouse. The tea is great for fruiting vegetables like tomatoes,cucumbers, peppers and potatoes and is most efficient when the plant has just started to flower and is setting fruit.

How to Make Your Own Sun Tea Fertilizer

  • Harvest the comfrey plant you will use. The leaves are what you want, so you can leave the plant in the ground and take just the outer leaves so the plant can continue to grow OR you can simply strip the leaves from the stem and compost the rest of the plant. If you’re feeling lazy, the whole plant can be soaked.
  • Fill a five gallon pail with your matter and top with water. We have a rain water system setup for the greenhouse, so we used rain water for this part. You may want to cover your bucket to prevent insects from getting in, prevent any dilution from rain water if storing outside and to reduce the smell. WARNING: this mixture gets stinky!
  • Let the soaking begin! We place the pails beside the greenhouse where they are still able to collect sunlight ( we use black pails to help with this). Your desired strength will influence your soaking time. For the strongest tea, the mixture should steep anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks. If you’re looking to have something quicker, placing in direct heat will help and takes only a couple of days to begin fermentation.
  • The final product will be a brownish green in colour, and of course have the decomposed leaves as a mush. Strain out the mush and add it to your compost pile.
  • The colour of the liquid will tell you the strength of your tea. The darker the colour, the stronger the potency. If you are using a well steeped batch that is a dark brown colour, you will want to dilute the mixture 1:1 with fresh water.

There you have it! Your very own natural fertilizer made in your backyard. Next time those vegetables are looking a little sad, simply give them a little drink of this garden sun tea and see it work for yourself!

Rose Water : A How To & Why You Need it in Your Life

Here on the farm in June the wild rose bushes are in full bloom, their sweet fragrance wafting through the yard on a breeze or sitting heavy in the air on a hot day. Their light blush and bright pink blooms fill the edges of the yard and the treelines with bursts of colour. The wild rose is actually the Provincial flower for Alberta and grows in great abundance around the countryside in our area.

Three years ago, after some reading and research, I decided to try making my own Rose Water from the bountiful flowers around our property. Rose water can be made from wild roses, rose bushes from the garden or, if none of these options are available to you, commercially grown roses from your local florist. Be sure to check where the flowers from your florist are coming from and that they haven’t been treated before proceeding with this option!

Picking petals is almost therapeutic for me; hiding in the foliage of the bush, crouched to the ground, nose to nose with bumble bees and spiders hiding amongst the blooms. When picking petals I like to leave one petal per flower still attached. This ensures that the flower will still produce it’s rosehip bud later in the season.

Wondering how to make your own?

  • Collect fresh petals.
  • Rinse with cold water to wash away any bugs or pests.
  • Put the petals into a small pot, adding water to just cover the petals.
  • Heat over a low heat, making sure to not let the water come to a boil. A boil will cause the properties of the petals to be destroyed, and will alter the colour of your water.
  • Heat for 20 minutes, or until the colour has left the petals.
  • Strain off and store in a jar in the fridge for up to two weeks.

So what are the benefits to using Rose Water?

When the Summer season rolls around each year, Rose Water becomes an essential in my morning and evening beauty regime. I keep a small spray bottle of rose water on the counter in my bathroom that I use to spray my face and neck with after cleaning in the morning and before bed each night. Why do you ask?

Rose water has shown to help balance the skins pH levels while also controlling oil. If you’re anything like me in the Summer, most days are spent outside in the sunshine; hot, sweaty and often dirty from playing in the garden or flower beds. Using sunscreen makes my skin extra oily, and nobody wants a summer acne breakout! Oil control is key for me, as well as reducing redness and inflammation from irritants like dust, dirt and pollen. Rose water also helps to add moisture back to the skin and has been shown to help with anti-aging properties. Since I turned 29 for the second time this year, I’ve noticed my skin changing and added it as just another reason I need rose water in my life.

Any other curly girls out there battle with their hair all Summer long like me, fighting humidity and heat and those little frizzies? Of course you can also use rose water as a natural conditioner. Rose water helps to revitalize hair growth (yes please after my post-partum hair loss) and also acts to treat any scalp inflammation or dandruff.

Aside from all the health benefits rose water has for your skin and hair, the fragrance also has benefits. Known to lift spirits and help to enhance moods, it can help to reduce anxiety. I know this tired Mama sometimes needs a little pick me up! A little spritz on a pillow before bed or applying to the wrists throughout the day are all ways to benefit from the smell of roses.

Have I sold you yet on the benefits of rose water?

If nothing else, collecting the flowers and petals and adding them into a nice refreshing bath after a long Summer day is what every girl needs. Just ask Wallace, she can attest!

The Slow Down Summer

Here on the farm, Summer usually brings with it the hustle and bustle of warm weather days filled with chores, activities and the ever endless To-Do list. It’s a time to take advantage of the longer days and the nice weather and get everything done outside.

This Summer started off a little differently as Dan is still home with us. Usually I have him home with me during his Spring Breakup from work, but this year Spring seems to be lingering, the world is on lockdown and the price of oil has tanked leaving him without work for now. Being in this situation may seem daunting to some, but thankfully, we were able to prepare for the possibility of him being off work ahead of time and had some savings and things set aside just in case. The oil patch is a never ending up and down fluctuation that we take in stride. With that being said, it’s been absolutely beneficial to us actually being able to smash out our To-Do list and check off everything on it, all before the end of June!

The farm life seems to have it’s never ending chores needing to be completed. This year that included expanding our outdoor chicken run, making some fixes and improvements to the pig haus, building and installing our new greenhouse and of course, planting this years garden. All while also adjusting to life with our new baby girl!

We converted our old vegetable garden into an expansion for the chicken run, doubling it in size to nearly 4000 square feet. This allows the birds to “free-range” in safety of the enclosure and netting, away from the clutches of predators, or big bear dogs! They are some happy chickens and I love having them a little bit closer in the yard.

At some point over the Winter the three little pigs had decided the flooring that had been in their house for the past three years just wasn’t up to standard anymore, and had slowly piece by piece, began removing it. Using OSB board we patched up the larges holes, laid down new plywood to cover the entire floor and then covered that with linoleum flooring. Here’s hoping the pigs can appreciate their fancy new flooring. The linoleum should make cleaning in there much easier as well as deter them from chewing away at any wood. With the pig haus done, we were officially done the “chore” portion of our To-Do list, and did that ever feel good!

Each Summer we plant a vegetable garden in the hopes that we will grow our own food for the Summer months and perhaps even for canning and preserving come Fall. Each year seems to be a battle against Mother Nature and a test of our patience. Preparations start in the late days of Winter and Early days of Spring, when the kitchen table becomes crowded over with seed starting trays. Everything is started in the house, then moved to the “Man Room” off the garage in the big South facing window. From there it makes the jump to our greenhouse when it is big enough to start hardening off and preparing for being planted in the ground. From tomatoes to pumpkins, cauliflower to corn, we try to pre start as much as possible due to our short growing season here in Alberta.

In the first week of June we had everything out of the greenhouse and into the dirt in the garden as well as all of our straight seeded vegetables into the ground. So of course, as our luck would have it, Mother Nature blessed us with a hail storm shortly there after. We sadly lost all of the tomatoes plants in the garden, along with most of our pumpkins. Our corn took a beating, along with our squash. Anything that we seeded had yet to come up, but was definitely much slower this year due to the wet and cold. Thankfully, our left over tomatoes that hadn’t been planted in the garden because we ran out of space were safely tucked away in the greenhouse and we may still see some fruit!

A couple days of heat and sunshine brought the beans out of hiding, our reseeded cucumbers have sprouted and our potatoes look quite happy. The garden is what it is most years, as we can’t control the weather, but we do work each year to improve our soil quality and layouts to give it the best chance possible.

For my birthday Dan surprised me with a new greenhouse package. With rather vague instructions, we were able to put it together and had it built in a couple of days. We added some little personal touches like a wood trim around the bottom which I torched for preserving the wood and also for a little rustic look. The greenhouse was built on a skidded platform which we then pulled across the yard to it’s final resting place across from the garden.

Inside we have built one raised bed which houses the leftover tomatoes, a couple pepper plants and my calendula flowers. We will add a second raised bed along the back next year and try our cucumbers and watermelon inside. We found an old ladder which we hung from the ceiling to use for trellising and hanging. We also created inside solar batteries to help aid in heating the greenhouse. These are four black barrel drums filled with water. The idea is that throughout the day they will absorb the sun and heat holding it inside and when the temperatures are cooler heat will escape from the barrels keeping the greenhouse warm. We also installed our own watering system, hanging eaves trough from both sides that drain into a large tote. The tote is rigged with a garden hose and the pressure of the water in the tote allows me to use the hose for watering inside the greenhouse. I am so happy with our little “green”house and will continue to work away at it over the Summer and into Spring to make it just so.

It was another rough Winter on our fruit trees, but we are happy to report that our berry patch is looking good. So much so, we decided to forgo on the trees and add more fruit bushes. We planted another whole row of Haskaps, a row of Saskatoons and two rows of Raspberries. Using cedar rails we hauled back from Ontario a couple of years ago we also built corner fences for decoration. A little piece of home. One day this berry patch will be thriving, and we may just fulfill our dreams of a home made wine and mead business!

We made the decision this year to forgo raising the meat pigs and butcher chickens on our own. We wanted to cut back on chores and have the extra time to enjoy this first Summer with Wallace. We bought two pigs from a local Hutterite colony and had them butchered and we will likely do the same for chickens in the Fall. It made more sense for us this year, but we will be back on track for next year.

One Spring chore that we couldn’t put off was shearing the alpaca. The two boys got their annual hair cuts a couple weeks ago. Dan’s friend comes with his shearing setup and gives us a hand, as well as my father-in-law who helps with restraint. The boys got a once over with a hair trim and a hoof trim. We will take the fiber this year again to the mill and have it spun down into yarn. I would love to start playing around a little more with yarn and fibers, especially dying my own. I’m thinking next on the wish list is a white alpaca for just this reason!

Now that everything is check off the To-Do list, it’s time to sit back and relax for the Summer. Just kidding! Who am I joking, I married a Burch! While we don’t have time lines or deadlines to meet on any more projects here, I am sure there will lots to do for the Summer.

A project I am excited to get back to working on is our bus conversion. The sub floor is in and now it’s time to seal up and paint the inside! We have the materials for painting and laying down the main floor when the time comes. This is a work in progress and will no means be finished this Summer but it makes for a fun project to spend our down days on.

We also have a couple more beehives to build and paint. We are now up to five hives on the farm as we split one hive and had that same hive split themselves again with a swarm. We were thankfully able to catch the swarm and re-home them into a new hive across the yard. Three out of the five hives are also donning their honey supers already and the bees are hard at work filling them with honey. Here’s hoping this is our year for a bumper honey harvest!

Our most important task this Summer is mostly to try and slow down, take in the time we have as a family and enjoy these days with our little girl. Wallace is definitely an outside baby. She has her best naps in her stroller parked outside by the chicken coop, beside the greenhouse or hiding in the shade of the treeline while we work away. She’s made the rounds to meet all of her animals and has the best big brother watching out for her, always hiding somewhere near by watching. Time really does fly by too fast, and she is already growing so much. I wish I could put a pause on all of it. For now, let’s just slow down and enjoy it all while we can!

The ONLY Rhubarb Recipe You NEED This Summer

If there is one thing that comes to mind when I think early Summer, it is EVERYTHING rhubarb. From desserts like crisps, to morning treats like rhubarb rolls or the more savory side with bbq sauces and cooking along side pork, there really isn’t a bad recipe out there involving rhubarb.

DID YOU KNOW:

TRADITIONALLY USED AS A FRUIT FOR DESSERTS, JAMS OR PRESERVES, RHUBARB IS ACTUALLY A PERENNIAL VEGETABLE!

Rhubarb thrives in cooler environments, which is why it does so well here in our Canadian climate. It also is a pretty easy plant to grow. It likes lots of water , needing sufficient moisture during those early summer months to grow. We cover our rhubarb each fall with chicken manure to allow lots of nutrients through the manure over winter. It is suggested that you dig up and split your plants every three to four years.

With this leafy plant, only the stalks are eaten as the leaves are actually poisonous when ingested. Rhubarb has a rich, tart flavour and a vibrant redish green colour to the stalk.

FUN FACT:

Rhubarb leaves contain a property called oxalic acid that is extracted and used in a powder form for treating honeybees. Using a vapourizer at the hive entrance, the oxalic acid is turned into smoke and enters the hive. We use this treatment method each fall for our honey bees to make sure they are rid of varroa mites.

But are you ready for the only recipe you’re going to want involving rhubarb?

Rhubarb Simple Syrup

  • Chop up about 3 to 5 cups of fresh rhubarb (depending on the size of batch you want to make)
  • Add to a sauce pan with 1 cup of white sugar and 1/4 cup water
  • Bring to a boil
  • Cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 5 to 10 minutes
  • Let cool. Strain out rhubarb mash and store syrup in fridge for up to a week or freeze for later.

NOTE: Keep the strained rhubarb to use as a sauce, for baking into crisps or, if you’re like me and have three little spoiled pigs living outside, a tasty treat for your animals!

I use this stuff for literally EVERYTHING in the summer. Looking for a sauce for pancakes? Wanting to spice up your typical summer cocktails? Looking for a glaze for your next BBQ meat? Drizzle over icecream on a hot day for a sweet treat. Add it into your breakfast yogurt for a little sweetness. The possibilities are endless!

Tried this recipe? Share your creations with us and tag us on Instagram!

Queenspotting, the Perfect Rainbow and Adventures in Beekeeping with the Burches

As we enter our third Summer of beekeeping we reflect on how much we have learned over the course of a couple of years, and also how much we really don’t even know yet. That’s the beauty of beekeeping, just when you start to think you have things figured out, Mother Nature reminds you you are merely human being and will never understand the fullness of her wild. The bees keep us learning, they keep us wondering and they keep us connected to how the world around us works in harmony.

We had been talking about getting bees for several years here on the farm, when friends of ours gifted us a hive as a wedding present. It felt like there was no time like the present to dive into this new hobby, and so it all began! We signed up for a local bee course, a one day teaching held on the outskirts of the city of Edmonton. We learnt so much information, hearing from local beekeepers, college teachers and local farmers like ourselves. We walked away that day with our beekeeping certificate feeling like maybe we could do this. Oh how much we thought we knew then, and so little it actually was.

Perhaps the best advice I can give to those wanting to start a bee journey of their own, find yourself a mentor! I was lucky to have met a local beekeeper while working at the Farm Store in Drayton. He and his family have been keeping bees for over 25 years in the surrounding area. I connected with Wayne over the phone, had him place our order for our bees when he placed his in January. When the bees arrived that Spring, Dan went to pick up our tube package from Wayne and ended up spending the majority of the day at his place. He helped to unload the tubes into the hives and brought home with him some invaluable information. To this day, Wayne is still just a phone call away for any and all of our beekeeping questions. Anyone who keeps bees always seems very eager to share their knowledge and help out those who show an interest in these little pollinators.

Fast forward to this Summer, we are now at a total of four hives here on our property. We started this journey with two Flow Hives, performed one split last Spring that survived the Winter and then had one more split we moved this Spring. Each of our splits are in conventional hive setups and we look forward to being able to compare these with the Flow Hives as the years go on. Which brings me to my second piece of advice for new beekeepers, always start with two hives minimum! Having two hives allows you to compare colonies and activity between the bees, giving you more insight should you ever run into issues. It also provides the opportunity for intervention if needed (ie. If one hive is thriving and the other appears weak, you can take brood frames from one hive and give them to the other to help boost populations). I am sure that having two hives saved us many times as we started out, and allowed us to observe and learn double as each hive performed differently as an individual.

Our first inspections of this season were done in late April as there was still lots of snow left to melt around the hive stands. As a precaution, we supplied each hive with a pollen patty and home made “bee candy” to ensure that they made it through the long melt of Spring and didn’t run out of storages. Bee Candy is basically a fondant, made by boiling down water and sugar to a high temperature and cooling off to form a hard sugar board. This provides a source of food for the bees who aren’t able to get out foraging yet, but may be running low on supplies in the hive.

As soon as the snow was melted and the sun shone warm, we were eager to get into the hives to asses after a long Winter. We are happy to say everyone survived! Our yellow hive (the FlowHive) is our strongest hive and was already in need of a split. So as soon as the weather permitted, we got out our Nuc box and got to work. The Nuc box is a small six frame box about half the size of a regular hive box. Taking a couple frames of capped brood, along with a frame of uncapped eggs, you place these into the Nuc with a frame of honey/pollen. You want to ensure you are also taking with you several frames full of bees but NOT the queen herself. These frames are sealed into the Nuc and moved away from the original hive. This is called a “Walk Away” split, and the hope is that the bees in the Nuc will rear a queen cell from the uncapped eggs. It takes 15 to 16 days for the queen to hatch, then she takes off on her maiden voyage as a virgin queen to mate and return to the hive to start laying eggs. When we inspected the Nuc box and moved them into a regular hive box, there was evidence of queen cells hatching but no eggs yet. We are keeping our fingers crossed she is just out gallivanting. If there should not be a queen in the next several weeks we may have to purchase a queen to introduce into the hive.

Admittedly, this is the first year of beekeeping that we’ve actually opened up each established hive and seen our Queen Bee hard at work. We usually see the tell tale signs that she is there and well: capped brood, open larvae and eggs in the cells. But to actually pick her out of the crowd and lay eyes on her is something else completely! The Queen can be differentiated from the nurse bees surrounding her because she is longer in the body, has shorter wings and her back will be bald. Sometimes, she will also be surrounded by a circle of bees. Just for fun, see if you can pick out the Queen in the next couple pictures, I’ll post the answer at the end!

When Spring finally arrived, the sunshine and warmth woke up the pussywillows and the bees were sure to get to work foraging. Since then, those blooms have come and gone and the bees are now making quick work of all the dandelions. We have pollen pants coming in hot to the hives! POLLEN. These multi-coloured cells are the powerhouse of the hive. Packed full of protein they are a key food source to the honeybee. Referred to as “bee bread”, pollen when mixed with the bee’s saliva enzymes is packed into cells. It is the main food source for nurse bees in the hive who are rearing the young. This is most important in early Spring when the hive is reestablishing their populations after a long Winter.

DID YOU KNOW — Pollen isn’t used for honey production. Nectar collected is where our sweet sticky treat comes from!

When we complete our hive inspections now they are quick and to the point. We want to make sure the queen is laying and still with the hive. We want to make sure the bees are collecting the storages they will need for the next Winter and we want to make sure the populations are within reason and we aren’t seeing swarm cells or any other signs the bees may not be happy in the hive. Below is what I like to call a “Perfect Rainbow Frame” and is exactly what we want to be seeing on the frames in the hive. There is an outer layer of capped honey (the light white colour), followed by a ring of pollen and nectar, nestled on top of the capped brood (solid yellow). The cells you can see at the very bottom of the frame that almost pop out are the drone bee cells. By layering the frames in this way it allows for food storages to be readily available to the nurse bees and brood while also acting as a barrier, providing shields to the elements outside of the hive and insulating the frame to regulate temperature. How amazing are bees when you see the care an detail that goes into their hives?!

Heading into the Summer months now the bees have access to lots of different pollen and nectar sources. The yellow hive still being the busiest has already donned it’s honey super for the season and we can see busy little bees inside, hopefully filling it full of honey. Each year I plant a circle garden around the hive stands, filling it full of wildflowers, borage and sunflowers. There are little sprouts already popping their heads through the soil and I can’t wait to see it bloom in all it’s splendor for the bees!

Me, five years ago, would have been absolutely terrified if a bee got this close to me. I’d have been flailing my arms, screeching and making a run for it. Three years into our beekeeping journey and you can now find me sharing my lemonade with our own honey bees! When I slowed down long enough to learn more about them, I gained a whole new respect for these little pollinators who keep the world going round.

Cheers folks, save the bees!

Queenspotting Answers Below

The Burches

We’ve been awfully quiet over here on the farm blog lately and that’s because in February, we became a family!

On February 5th 2020 at 4:59pm we welcomed our beautiful baby girl Wallace Anne Burch earthside. Weighing in at 6 lbs 14 oz she was absolutely perfect. After 30 months of hoping and praying, 41 weeks of pregnancy and a quick 49 hours of labour she arrived and made us a family of three.

Since arriving home we have been busy navigating parenthood and figuring out what it means to have a baby in the house now. What a rewarding title it is to be a parent, but also an exhausting one. All the sleepless nights are worth it for the beautiful little miracle we get to call our little girl.

Dan returned to work shortly after we arrived home from the hospital but I am so thankful that my parents were able to come out and spend a couple weeks with us. Dad was quick to jump into helping out with the chores and quickly made a new friend in Hank. I love having my Dad out to the farm to help with all the animals, it fills my heart with so much joy getting to farm with him, even if it’s just funny farm style! And I have to say, Grandpa looks good on him too.

Having my Mom here by my side for those first weeks as I figured out Motherhood was the most special thing. I remember her saying to me “everything just seems a little brighter in the light of day” and those words couldn’t be more true. When I was alone everything just seemed a little more daunting when it got dark. I was terrified the first night I spent by myself after she flew home. There wouldn’t be that familiar face peeking into the nursery door during the 2 am diaper change. I’d find myself checking the spare bedroom door to see if it’s cracked open, but she wouldn’t be there coming to my rescue when I couldn’t stop the baby from crying. There wouldn’t be that comfort in the dark of the kitchen as I warmed up a bottle as a last resort because all the pacing and rocking hadn’t put her to sleep. There was no longer that 5 am saving grace of my Mom sleeping on the couch with baby just so I could have a couple extra hours sleep myself. I sat on that spare bed and cried a lot after she left, the room still smelled like her. If end up being half the Mom I had growing up and who I still have supporting me today, Wallace is going to turn out just fine!

Now, three months in, I think I have things figured out. We’ve established a routine, Dan has been an amazing partner and really steps in as a Dad. I still miss my parents dearly, and we chat daily on the phone or send little videos back and forth.

This has been a crazy time bringing a new baby into the world as we are also dealing with a world pandemic of the Coronavirus. Countries around the world are on lockdown; quarantines and self isolation are enforced by law and no one is leaving their homes. While the time has been nice to settle in and become a family unit without being inundated by visitors or trips here and there, I think we are ready for things to get back to “normal”, whatever that will end up looking like now. I miss some of my friends dearly, my heart breaks that my brother had to cancel his trip out here this Spring and he and his girlfriend have yet to meet their niece. I also wonder when flights will be back to normal so Grandma and Grandpa Neabel can come back out. There are so many unknowns and we are simply living this day by day.

With Dan home for Spring breakup we have really used this time to be a family. I love my husband, but seeing him become a Dad has really opened up my heart to a new level of love. Seeing the way this little girl already has him wrapped around her finger, he has a long road ahead of him being a girl Dad.

St. Patrick’s Day came and went, and with it Dan and I’s third wedding anniversary. I can’t believe we’ve been The Burches for three years already! We had a special little leprechaun to celebrate with this year.

We celebrated Easter together with a quiet little ham dinner at home. Of course it wouldn’t have been a first Easter without Mom making the baby dress up for ridiculous photo shoots. We decorated some of our farm eggs and found some little ears for our cute bunny.

Wallace has been slowly meeting all of the critters that are waiting for her outside in her zoo. Big brother Hank is in love and is the best protector a little girl could have. Add in Sophie and Lily and this little farm girl will never have to worry being outside with her bear dogs. I look forward to all the mornings of chores, collecting eggs, feeding everyone and afternoons spent in the gardens. I can’t wait to teach her all about this farm that has been waiting for her. I think we may just have a little crazy chicken lady in-training!

There is an old traditional custom in which bees are told of important events in their keeper’s lives; including births, deaths, arrivals and departures. The “goodwife” of the house would go out and knock gently on the hives, softly murmuring a tune to the hive of the news. So one sunny morning we snuck out before the warmth of the day brought the hives alive. We knocked gently on each hive, waiting for the buzzing reply, and then we told the bees this Summer, there was a new little beekeeper in the midst! I can’t wait to raise Wallace amongst the bees. To watch her grow and learn and to respect all the wonders of Mother Nature. Here she is bees, your newest little keeper in training!

Just this past weekend was a very special one for me. I celebrated my first Mother’s Day, as Mom, a title I fought so hard for. This amazing little human being has given me the best gift in life. I have found purpose and reason, and my heart is filled with so much light and love sometimes I think it may burst. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t remember what it took to get to this moment and part of me feels guilty for the happiness of finally getting here. But maybe that’s all the more reason to celebrate. Either way, I feel so blessed to have this little girl in my life, an amazing man by my side and these people I get to call my Family. She was definitely worth the wait!

I don’t know how Wallace is already three months old, the time really does fly. I already want to put a pause on life and slow down to enjoy these little moments more. She has been such a happy little babe, who loves bath time, morning snuggles and telling all the stories. Her best naps are in the stroller parked outside by her chickens under the watchful eye of Brother Hank. She loves dancing in the kitchen to Daddy’s 90’s country music before bed and laying on her play mat watching the aquarium channel.

I look forward to all the adventures here on the farm with our little wild farm girl!

This One’s for the Birds

One of my favourite parts of Winter is quiet morning coffees as the sun rises on snow covered branches, woodland backyards full of busy little birds as the world wakes. This is most definitely where you’ll find me most mornings for the rest of Winter, perched at my kitchen table, coffee in one hand and my camera in the other.

Bird watching has quickly become one of my greatest Winter hobbies, especially now that I am home each morning with not much more to do than watch the world come alive with the sunrise. I’d like to consider myself an amateur Birder here on the farm. I could sit for hours watching the comings and goings of all the busy birds. Thanks to my husbands collection of encyclopedias and nature books from his childhood I am learning so much about each and every species I spot.

Each Winter we make up batches of our own suet cakes to feed the birds. Placing them around the backyard trees and hanging them by our kitchen windows for the best views. It was the best decision ever when we started this little seasonal tradition and it’s one we’ll continue for some time. Not only do I get to be up close and personal to these flighty little creatures, they get free food out of the deal all Winter long, despite the cold harsh weather we sometimes see here on the farm.

Wanting to make your own suet cakes? It’s super easy and you only need a few items to put them together!

What You Need:

  • Rendered fat. Personally we use pig fat that we keep each year after butchering our hogs. We melt it down outside in the garage using an old turkey deep fryer because this Momma cannot stand that smell in her house at the moment. You could use any kind of fat from a local butcher shop or the drippings you save from bacon or hamburger as well.
  • Peanut Butter
  • Bird Seed
  • Containers. We used old solo cups we had from the greenhouse for seed starting. Placing a wire in each making sure to get right to the bottom of the cup to hold it together at the birds eat it down. We also used old pie plates and drilled holes in them to hang them up. Lastly I had silicone trays for soap making that we used and then cut into squares for the feeders we had hanging in the trees left from the previous owners of the property.

Now to put it all together…

  1. Melt down the fat you are using. I suggest doing this outside of the house if you are using fat from a butcher as it will take some time and the smell isn’t the most pleasant.
  2. Stir in peanut butter. I don’t measure, just wing it. Sometimes we use a whole jar depending on how much fat we’ve got.
  3. Stir in your bird seed. You’ll want enough seed to make the mixture into cakes in your containers without overpowering the fat mixture which will harden and act as the glue to hold it all together.
  4. Let your containers harden overnight. This is best done in a cool spot for best results.
  5. Hang and use right away, or freeze for later. We use baler twine because we have a lot of that kicking around the farm, but any string or wire will work.

Now grab your favourite mug and a hot coffee, and be prepared to twiddle away the morning hours watching your own backyard birds.

Here on the farm our most common visitors include :

  • Grey Jays ( Canadian Jay or Whiskey jack)
  • Blue Jays
  • Woodpeckers (Downy and Hairy)
  • Chickadees (Black Capped and Boreal)

My dream would be to catch a Pileated Woodpecker at one of the feeders. They are the largest of the woodpecker family native to our area here in Alberta and are absolutely gorgeous. I think if we keep up our Winter feeding my patience will be rewarded!

One day, not so far away now, I cannot wait to share in all the splendors of Nature right here on our very own piece of land with our children. To sit and peruse through nature books and scientific encyclopedias, learning and teaching them about the land we are blessed to call home. Because in the end, that’s really why we are here doing all of this in the first place, to one day have something amazing and beautiful to leave behind us for our children.

I’d love to see your suet cake creations or bird photos, so please tag or mention us on Instagram or Facebook with your pictures!

Homemade on the Homestead

You asked for it, so here it is!

One of the biggest goals here on the farm is to live a fully sustainable life. It’s a slow process, cutting out what we can over time here and there, and making the most of what’s available to us right off the farm. Making laundry soap seemed like a good place to start when trying to get rid of some of the more conventional household items we used.

Today, I’m sharing the recipe I use for making my own homemade laundry soap. It has been over three years since I’ve bought commercial laundry detergents from the store, including fabric softener. This soap leaves all of our clothes, bedding and towels soft and smelling wonderful, and all that you need is one tablespoon in your washing machine! The best part for us coming up, it is totally safe to use for all of our baby items we are getting ready for our little babes arrival this month.

Without further ado, here’s the recipe!

Homestead Laundry Detergent

Ingredients

  • 2 bars of Fels Naptha soap (I was told you could only get this item out of the US, but for my Canadians, no need to fret, I bought a box of 24 bars offline from Amazon that shipped right to the farm!)
  • 2 cups Borax
  • 2 cups Washing soda (I use Arm&Hammer)
  • 1 dishpan (I found a CLEAN kitty litter box from the dollar store worked perfect)
  • 1 grater
  • 40 cups boiling water
  • Essential oils (If you’d like to add a scent to your soap, but it smells wonderful all on it’s own too)
  • Jars (You’ll need lots, depending on what sizes you are using too)

Instructions

Step 1. Coarsely grate your 2 bars of Fels Naptha soap into dishpan. Add 16 cups of boiling water and stir until all the soap is dissolved.

Step 2. Add 20 cups of boiling water to dishpan. Stir in 2 cups Borax, stirring to dissolve. Add 2 cups washing soda, stir to dissolve. If using essential oils add at this time.

Step 3. Once everything has dissolved, add more hot water until about an inch from the top of your dishpan. Stir.

Step 4. Ladle the soap mixture into jars working quickly, as the liquid will start to gel as it cools.

There you have it, you’ve jarred your very own batch of laundry soap! To use add 1 tablespoon directly into washing machine with clothes. This soap can be used with both regular machines and HE machines. And don’t be afraid to skip out on the fabric softener, you’re not going to need it!

Another item we added just this Winter to our laundry regime was dryer balls. I had been wanting to try them out forever, but was stubborn and didn’t want to purchase them. I had my own plan set in motion. The fibre we had saved from our first alpaca gentlemen (Calvin and Hobbes) had been taken to a mill. It was not the right quality of fibre for making into wool, so it was mixed with merino wool and turned into roving. When I got the roving back , I knew what I was going to do with it.

The dryer balls were relatively easy to make, using a stockinette (or pantyhose leg) and running them through the wash cycle a couple of times to felt them together. The roving was wound into tight softball size balls, stuffed into the stockinette and tied individually and then sent through a wash cycle on the hottest setting possible. We ended up doing a total of three cycles before removing the balls to dry. After drying for an evening, we cut the balls out of the pantyhose and, voila, dryer balls!

I like to use mine with a couple drops of my favourite oils to add a little extra fresh to the dryer. Simply toss the ball into the dryer with your load of clothes or bedding and dry as normal. No static. Softness. Fresh scent. I am sold on alpaca dryer balls. I can’t wait to save more fibre this spring just for Dryer Balls to share!

Wondering what some of the best essential oils are for laundry?

Lavender – My go to for adding in with bedding, this oil is a relaxing and calming floral smell.

Wild Orange – A fresh scent, this oil is uplifting and invigorating and makes for the perfect addition for clothing.

Melaleuca (Tea Tree) – This cleansing oil is a great addition for those who may be like me, and sometimes forget a load in the washer now and then. Add this purifying oil to your dryer ball and pop in with wet clothes to dryer.

Eucalyptus – Great for freshening and killing germs, this oil is a must when purging after a sickness.

Lemongrass – A citrus oil, with a side of earthy smell, this makes for a great scent for that man in your life’s dirty socks or work clothes.

Cedarwood – A favourite of mine, this earthy smell is grounding with cleansing properties. Another great one for the man in your life, or a great addition for a good nights sleep with lavender.

I hope that you’ll love this recipe as much as I do and found this post helpful. I would love to see your laundry creations, so please, tag us or mention us on Instagram to share your laundry hacks!