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Agriculture Beekeeping Bees Kansas

Bees!

Last week, we embarked on a new adventure. We bought bees! We have talked about getting bees for years but never took the leap. Well, on Thursday we finally officially started beekeeping! We are starting with two beehives but I can already see how this can easily turn in to several more beehives over the years

A local beekeeper, Nikki, has been keeping a beehive at our house for the last couple of years. This has given us the opportunity to observe the bees and get comfortable with having them around. I called her this past winter with a long list of questions about beekeeping. After patiently answering all of my questions, she graciously offered to mentor me if we bought bees. After visiting about it and weighing out the pros and cons, Lance and I decided that it would be a good fit for us to get bees this year.

Nikki gave me a list of items that we needed to purchase. I was able to get almost everything we needed but I am still waiting on my pants and smoker because they were backordered. We purchased our hives and bee colonies from her since she had extras available. We are using 8 frame Langstrom Hives.

After placing the bees in their new hives, I made a mixture of sugar water to feed them. This will help them to have plenty of food while they are getting their hives started. There isn’t a lot of things blooming yet so this is also a good supplement for them. After they had been in the hives for two days, I opened it up and checked how much sugar water they had left. Surprisingly, they both still had half to three-quarters of a mason jar full. This indicates that the bees have been successful in finding pollen sources.

Currently, there is yellow clover, white clover, dandelions, my strawberries, and some wildflowers blooming. It’s still too early for all of my planted flowers and garden vegetables to be blooming. Adding the bees though is an excellent excuse to plant more flowers than I already have! I have a lot of zinnias, marigolds, and purple coneflower planted as well as other flowers and herbs. For the past few years, I have always tried to plant pollinator friendly flowers and herbs just because we enjoy watching the pollinators.

There is so much to learn about beekeeping and bees in general that I am enjoying the challenge of learning a new skill. I have been reading Storey’s Guide to Beekeeping, joined groups on Facebook, and followed pages on instagram. However, I think that the biggest help will be having someone to mentor me and teach me the craft over the next year or two. I have a feeling though, that just like with any type of livestock or farming, there will always be something new to learn with bees!

We are hoping to have our first honey harvest sometime in July. Our family loves honey so we are all excited to hopefully have some that “our” bees made! Taking photos is one of my hobbies so be prepared for lots of bee and flower photos over the summer!

Photo by Kim Simon
A fun fact I have learned about bees is that a colony can have 10,000 – 60,000 bees living in it!
In this photo I am putting the bees into their hive. Photo was taken by Nikki.
Putting sugar water in the hives.
The following photos were taken by Lance’s aunt, Kim Simon.

Categories
Agriculture Goals Kansas Uncategorized

Goals

“You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream” – C. S. Lewis

I am a goal setter and planner. I am a slow decision maker though so once I finally make up my mind I am ready to go and want everything to be done yesterday. When we decided that making our farm into a sustainable business was what we wanted to do, I immediately wrote several goals. Those goals have already changed and evolved as I have thought about the direction I want to take 14 Hands Ranch.

Our idea to actually make our farm into a sustainable business and not just a hobby farm, started last summer. I have stayed home with our kids the last three years. Previously, I worked as a speech-language pathologist in the local school district. I loved working with the students but it just wasn’t right for our family anymore. Lance works full time as an independent insurance agent. A large portion of his clients are people and businesses involved in some area of agriculture. Over the last year, we would occasionally discuss what I would do when Kinzie starts school in a couple of years. I know, starting to worry about this two years in advance is kind of crazy but like I said, I’m a slow decision maker! As I seriously thought about it, I realized that going back to work as a SLP wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something in the ag community and for us it made the most sense to start here at home.

So all of this to say that I finally chose what I want to do next. I love the sheep and goats. I love being outside in the spring, summer, and fall. Winter is questionable, I hate being cold. This past fall I started making goat milk soap from the stash of milk I had in our deep freeze. Our family liked it and I had made more than we needed so I decided to sell some before Christmas. It went over well and it was kind of fun. That’s when I decided that I could do this.

So what is “this?” It’s working to make our farm sustainable while at the same time using livestock to regenerate our land. I’m not going to share all of my goals here but I did want to share a couple. The goal closest to being achieved is opening an online farm store. At this time, I plan to sell my goat milk soap and beeswax candles. More products will be added in the future. I am getting so close to opening it and I can’t wait to share with you all when it officially opens.

I also plan to add a flock of wool sheep and honey bees. These sheep and bees, combined with the sheep and goats we already have, will be a huge help in improving our soil health naturally. By improving our soil health, we will be able to increase the number of animals our land can support. I have lots of goals and dreams for our little 14 Hands Ranch and a lot of time is being spent dreaming, planning, and researching right now. It’s fun to think about the possibilities.

When we decided this was what I was going to do, I stumbled upon the quote at the top of this post. It is now on a sticky note above my desk. Sometimes we need a little nudge to follow our dreams.

I will never get tired of Kansas sunrises and sunsets.

Categories
Agriculture Burning Kansas Spring

First Sign of Spring in Eastern Kansas

How do you know that it’s spring time in eastern Kansas? When farmers and ranchers start to burn their pastures and CRP. The skies can be so smokey this time of year that the sun is pink or reddish during the day. These fires are called prescribed or controlled burns because the farmers and ranchers start them in specific pastures and (try to) control where the fires go.

Burning is done in the Flint Hills of Kansas to help clear out the old, dry, dead grass from the previous year, control the Eastern Red Cedar Trees that come up everywhere here, and to promote new grass growth. The controlled burns also help to control the amount of weeds in a pasture. The Easter Red Cedar Trees are a problem because they pull a lot of water out of the ground and choke out the native grasses. This then reduces the amount of ground available for grazing livestock. They can be very invasive and it doesn’t take long for them to completely take over an area. When pastures are allowed to become overgrown with tall, dry grass or cedar trees they can become a wildfire danger. It is also difficult for new grass to grow.

I grew up in western Kansas (almost to the Kansas/Colorado state line) where there is almost always a drought and it is always dry so very few people burn intentionally. There just isn’t enough tall grass to burn anyway because all available grass is always grazed. Where I grew up, there aren’t really any trees that would be considered invasive, so I am also always amazed at how easy cedar trees grow here because in western Kansas they are purposely planted for wind breaks. Many people actually water them to help them grow! The controlled burns were new to me and still make me nervous every year.

About half of our ground is in a government program called Conservative Reserve Program or CRP. This is when the government pays farmers to leave a field as fallow or plant native grasses. You are not allowed to graze or hay these fields as long as they are in the program unless there would be special circumstances. The purpose behind CRP is to help native species of animals with cover and food and to cut down on erosion.  When we moved to our farm the ground was already in CRP so we chose to leave it in the program. When our CRP contract ends we do not plan to renew it. Our plan is to work towards increasing our livestock numbers so that we can better manage the rotational grazing of our ground. Some of our ground is very overgrazed and tired so we plan to give it a longer break when we can start grazing the CRP.

Even though burning makes me nervous, I do enjoy taking pictures of it!

This is the before photo. You can’t tell from the photo but most of that grass is 6-7 feet tall!
Colton had the job of making sure the fire didn’t come up into the yard. They started on the south part because of the wind so he had to wait awhile before he had anything to do.
Cody is putting the fire out along the edge of the burn line.
Colton took his job very seriously and made sure the fire didn’t crossover into the yard.
Lance and Colton watching from the top of the hill.
All done.
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