Friday, October 26, 2018

(Oct 1) Harvesting Some Fruits of Our Labor (well, their labor actually!)

Thought I had posted this earlier this fall. Sorry for the confusion!

Just a follow-up to our beekeeping efforts. We harvested honey off of one of our hives this summer. Looks like we'll net about 30 pounds from one hive. At $12/pound, not a bad haul. We've got another large hive to harvest after we're done with this one. We're working on getting the other hives up to this production. They should be ready to start harvesting next Spring. Our goal will be to get up to about 6 productive hives by the end of next year.

We're really excited that they're doing so well. I was nervous about taking a natural approach (no pesticides, no medicine, no chemicals of any kind) to raising bees. I have 4 hives that are from wild stock, at least they were from swarms that we caught. They may have started out as domestic bees but I don't have any way of knowing. So far, they've been survivors. They're a bit more aggressively defensive than domestic hives that I've been around but I've also found that smoking them and then giving them about 5 minutes to settle down makes a big difference. We'll see next Spring how they compare to the have we have that was from purchased queen stock.

Original wild swarm that we caught. Look at all of that beautiful virgin comb! :)

We're so happy to be members of a local beekeeper's organization (Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association). They have been instrumental in educating us along the way. Lots of people willing to share knowledge and time to help you along. They're on the Dallas side of the Metroplex. There's also a group in Fort Worth, Metro Beekeepers Association, that I've heard lots of good about. The 2 groups are joining up this Fall to host the 1st DFW Area Beekeepers Conference. This should be a great show and we look forward to going.

Here's a breakdown of how the harvest went:

Amount of pure raw honey we harvested: 30 lbs

Amount of bee's wax we harvested: 2 lbs

Time to harvest and process: 6 hrs

Lessons learned:

1. Work the bees in mid-morning, after the foragers have left the hive in search of food but before it gets too hot!

2. Have a plan for securing the frames of honey and getting them to the processing area. Think the process through from which hives you'll process to how you'll secure the frames without bees. They will follow the frames of honey if you don't secure it. How to transport them if you have to drive? Hint, wax and honey tend to melt in a hot trunk! Be sure it's all in a leakproof container. What are you going to store the honey in after extraction? What are you going to do with it afterward? Bottle it? Keep it for personal consumption? Make Mead? Have some 5-gallon food-grade containers available to store the honey in until you're ready to bottle/distribute. Have several available in case you want to keep the honey from different hives separate.

3. Honey makes a sticky mess! Best to plan on it getting on everything that you deal with. Harvest in an area that's easy to clean up but closed off to bees that might smell it in the wind as you're working it. The other option is to do the actual processing at night while the bees are tucked in bed. Cooler then also if you don't have the option of an air-conditioned space. Texas Bee Supply in Blue Mound (north of McKinney), besides having tons of beekeeping and extraction equipment for sale, also has equipment for rent and a facility (air-conditioned!) to process in. Pretty reasonable rate at $15/hr. The Beekeeper's club that we belong to, Trinity Valley Beekeepers, has equipment to use that's free to members. A family membership is $20/yr - a bargain!

4. Plan ahead. If you're going to just extract honey, use frames with plastic foundation. They'll hold up to the process better and you can drop them right back into the hives for the bees to start re-filling. Use foundationless frames (the bees draw out their own comb from scratch) if you plan on cutting it out, foundation, honey and all. Knowing what and how you'll harvest in advance will make the process go a lot smoother when you're ready.

5. Keep logs and notes on everything that you do. Which hive(s) you harvest from. How much you harvested. What time of year. Grade the honey on flavor and color.

Three one pound jars from our 1st harvest. Can't wail 'til next summer to see what we get!

Here's a photo of some of the honey we harvested. We sold out in 3 days and actually couldn't fill all of the orders we got. We felt so bad, we sold it all and didn't end up keeping any for our own use! Had to buy some honey this year. There's some irony there!!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

(Jan 7) Heater Follow-Up and New Cabinet

Happy to report that the new heater (which had been running for about a week) was working fine when we came to check on the place today. The temperature in the house was pleasant and noticeably warmer than outside. Also, checking our electric service, it looks like the heater was costing us about $1/day to run 24 hours. I left the unit on high since outside temps were in the teens and 20s throughout the week. That burned about 10 KWHrs of power per day at 10¢ per KWHr. Very affordable, especially considering that I could add a couple of solar panels to offset this in the future.

To celebrate the new IKEA that opened up close to our Arlington house, we picked up a cabinet for our dishes and glasses. We really haven't been happy with storing the plates and bowls under the Berkey water filter and the glasses in a drawer. This will give them a permanent home. I think it looks pretty nice. :) Kim has always loved the green version of this cabinet but we both agreed that the grey would match the decor better.

IKEA Display Cabinet with dishes

Very happy to report that our bees are surviving the winter. I went out back this past week and checked on them when we had a break in the weather. All of the hives are hunkered down and waiting for Spring. Given that we're on month 10 of our 1st year of beekeeping, I'm just really happy to have any alive this far along. :) I'm already planning to set out traps early this Spring to see if we can catch some wild swarms. They're more aggressive than the European bred bees but they seem to have great production and survival skills.

We will likely also split 1 or 2 of our current hives in early summer, again from the wild caught stock from last year. I will try my hand again at rescuing bees from contacts through the Trinity Valley Beekeepers Association although that venture did not pay off last year. My election to the board as VP of the bee club this year was an unexpected surprise. They really are a great group to be associated with and I'm looking forward to a new year of learning how much I really don't know about bees!

Hoping for better weather in the coming weeks. I like being out here in the winter, I just don't like it rainy and freezing! The birds have seemed extra appreciative of our feeding efforts this winter. A new feeder stocked with finch food has brought in more birds than ever. What a horrible way to spend a winter day - hanging out with your wife in your Tiny House in the woods, drinking hot tea and watching the birds and squirrels play outside your window. It's a hard life but someone's got to suffer through it. :)

Friday, January 5, 2018

(Jan 5) Wall-Mounted Envi Heater Installed

In preparation of getting city water lines run into the house, we decided we needed to have some kind of constant heat available so that the pipes wouldn't freeze and break. Space heaters have such a bad reputation for overheating and catching fire, we thought that a lower powered wall heater would be prudent. Envi brand heaters have been around for a long time and seem to have a good reputation. There are multiple safety features that minimize the risk of a fire. We ordered one and got it installed last week just in time for an arctic blast that sent nighttime temps into the teens and daytime highs into the 20s. Let's take a look!

Envi Wall-Mounted Heater from

Installation was very straight forward. The unit comes with a template that you put up against the wall so that you can mark the mounting screw locations. Our biggest challenge was where to mount it and where to get power from. I must say, on my next build, I will be doubling or tripling the number of electrical outlets. You can just never have enough available!

That said, we decided to mount the heater on the side of the storage cabinet where our bar is located. It's central location to the room would ensure even heat throughout. The power for the lights in that cabinet are supplied by the same outlet under the composting toilet housing that runs the exhaust fan for the toilet. Both the fan and the lights for the cabinet are under 10 watts so there's plenty of juice left for the 475 watt Envi heater.

The plug for the Envi heater is pretty large so passing it through the cabinet wall required cutting a pretty large hole. The only hole saw I had with me that weekend was 2", larger than I needed but big enough to do the job. We located the hole so that only the bottom crescent would hang below the heater itself, just enough room for the electric cord to fit snug. The balance of the hole would now be hidden behind the unit itself. At 8" off the floor, I doubt that anyone will ever see it tucked up under the unit anyway!

Cutting through 2 layers of our IKEA cabinet proved to be the biggest challenge with my dull hole saw. I'm afraid that it's seen too many steel studs in it's past. I did manage to get through without catching the cabinet on fire though it was smoking pretty good a couple of times. lol How ironic would that be, to catch the house on fire while installing a safe space heater!

Attaching the unit to the wall was simple. There are mounting clips that screw into the mounting surface that the unit hangs on. A set screw allows you to secure it to one of the mounting clips so that it can't fall off of the wall. There is also a safety switch inside the unit that a mounting clip activates so that the unit can't operate unless secured in place. One other feature I like is that it has an ambient light sensor that dims the "ON" light at night. Nice touch for those of us that are sensitive to lights poking us in the eyes in the middle of the night. lol

Once through the outer walls of the cabinet, cutting through the back of the unit and through the wall into the toilet enclosure was much easier. I just had to be careful of placement to make sure I didn't hit a stud in the bathroom wall. The cord for the heater is about 6' long so I had no trouble reaching the outlet once through the wall. I did seal the hole up good around the cord after I passed it through. It wouldn't be pleasant if the toilet odors started creeping into the living room through the cabinet! It's not that our composting toilet doesn't smell, but the 3" exhaust fan does a great job of directing the odor outside and helps dry everything out.

Heater mounted on wall of cabinet. Cord goes into the cabinet and through the bathroom wall to get power. 

There was a black unit available but we decided that a $3 can of flat black paint was better than paying $20 extra for EHeat's shiny black unit. Besides, we'll be able to come close to matching the Black/Brown color of the cabinet this way. Never understood why companies make color a factor when setting pricing. If one color is actually more expensive to make, average the cost with the other colors and set your pricing even across the board. It all works out in the end and consumers don't have to wrestle with a pricing decision based on what matches their decor. Just my 2¢ worth.

I'm heading out to check on the house now. I need to add a thermometer that records highs and lows. That way we can tell if we have the heater (in winter) and the AC (in summer) set at the appropriate temperature for times that we're not there. The heater has a thermostat on it and automatically comes back on after a power failure, just like our AC unit. It does require a power reset if it senses that something has gone wrong and overheats. That way, you know the unit was overheating since it won't turn on as usual. I'll do a follow-up post to fill you in on how it goes. Hope everyone is staying warm!

Thanks for stopping by!