Minnesota

3 Answers To Your Questions About Bees

You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers! Bees always bring up a plethora of questions from what do you feed them, to how do you treat them, to what do you do with them in the winter. They are a very unique livestock that helps produce over $20 billion in products in the U.S. every year.

  1. How many bees are in a hive?

We buy our bees in a 2lb. or 3lb. package when we start a hive. Depending on size of the package, initially a hive starts out with anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 bees on average. Every hive has three types of bees – a queen, worker or female bees, and then male or drone bees. A hive will contain one queen bee, a few hundred drone bees, and anywhere from 30,000-80,000 worker bees.

 

  1. How much honey does a hive make?

Honestly, it varies every single year. Some years they are great producers, other years they slack a bit. It truly depends on the individual hive. But on average, a hive should produce in the 75lb. to 125lb. range. However, our hives are always left with two deep boxes to feed on throughout the winter.

 

  1. What can we do to help bees?

This one is simple – plant lots of pollinator friendly plants that bloom at various times throughout the growing season! One of my favorites to plant are zinnias. You can also use feeding pollinators as a really good excuse to your significant other when you don’t get to mowing the lawn right away because dandelions often serve as a first source of food for bees. Support local beekeepers and buy your honey from them when you can.

What other questions do you have about raising bees or honey extraction? Leave a comment and hopefully we can help answer your questions!

-Sara

Wildflowers – There Is More To It Than Pretty Blooms

Recently, in a group I belong to on Facebook for beekeepers, someone posted a business card with wildflower seed mixture packet attached in the shape of a bee that a company was handing out. It was pretty clever and cute marketing. Then I got to thinking…what is really in that little bee shaped seed packet and how far is it traveling?

Planting pollinator friendly flowers, shrubs, and trees is blowing up everyone’s social media feeds, yet there is a little more to planting pollinator friendly habitat than one would think.

The original reason I didn’t fully agree with the company’s creative marketing tactic was because business cards travel. Our business cards end up all over the United States, and even the world. We hand them out to people at all sorts of events, mail them in packages, place them with donations, etc. Can you imagine if I planted seeds that originated from another country in the United States, not knowing I had inadvertently brought in a non-native species that isn’t considered a flower here? You are supposed to declare any seeds, soils, etc. going through customs and they should get confiscated as part of the process, but a business card with a seed packet packed away is definitely easy to forget. Minnesota is currently battling palmer amaranth that was brought in through a pollinator friendly planting. I would hate to be that person that planted seeds from a company not knowing that it wasn’t clean seed.

Then I got to thinking about it a bit more. Think about what is really native in terms of wildflowers to the area you live in. For me, it is much different from certain elevations or from one part of the state to the next. If I truly wanted to invest in a pollinator friendly habitat, I would work to find species that were both pollinator friendly and native to my area, as well as hardy for my growing zone. Many gardening centers now specialize in this type of landscaping. When the 30 acres that some of our hives are on was converted to RIM ground, we were able to choose a pollinator friendly habitat mix from the DNR that was specialized for our area. It also made me realize the importance of sourcing seed from my area too. If you are in Minnesota, I highly recommend Albert Lea Seed House for specialized seed mixtures native to Minnesota or working with a local company that specializes in native plantings such as Blazing Star Gardens. We’ve realized the importance of utilizing seed that has inherent genetics to thrive in our area. New research also shows that honey bees prefer blooms in rural areas versus urban areas, so finding out blooms native to your area seems to have increasing importance.

Our hives out on an area that was planted in specific wildflower habitat for our area.

An important and specific item to honey bee health, is understanding the difference between nectar and pollen. Some flowers, vegetables, fruits, trees, and shrubs, require pollination which happens when a bee visits various blooms and transports the pollen on their legs from bloom to bloom. When bees are seeking out blooms to feed off of, they are collecting the nectar to produce honey. Plants vary in the amount of nectar they produce, so it is important to offer a wide variety of nectar producing plants throughout the growing season. Just planting a wildflower mixture, may not actually produce the amounts of nectar that bees need or when they need it most.

Most recently General Mills has been in the news, for giving away wildflower packets of seeds in their #bringbackthebees campaign. Others have posted about whether or not bees are really declining, or ulterior marketing motives, but I’m not really concerned with that. I’m concerned with what happens when a flower such as baby’s breath which is considered a weed in some areas that may be in the packet of flowers, grows in areas where it shouldn’t be planted, and what that can do to other crops or actual native species that are planted.

I love flowers, don’t get me wrong – but planting wildflowers is a little trickier as not everything is native, not everything thrives, and not everything is necessarily even considered a flower depending on your location in the country. The true definition of a weed is a plant out of place.

There are many plants you can plant to help pollinators that will last for the summer in your gardens or flower pots, which you wouldn’t have to worry about coming up every year or potentially spreading and becoming a weed. Flowers like zinnias, cosmos, and marigolds are all simple flowers you could plant around your house and garden instead. When truly establishing a wildflower or native flower area for pollinators, it is best to work with a local source who understands the intricacies of the ecosystem you are planning for.

-Sara

Planting Non-GMO Soybeans: Value-Added Production

You’ve heard me talk about the benefits of genetically engineered crops before, and why farmers like us choose to use them. You have probably read about our yields we get with planting GE crops (better known as GMO to consumers), what methods of tillage we use, what chemicals we have used, etc. in some of my past posts. We’ve had a lot of people ask us since we are the first ones to stand up for allowing farmers to use GE technology and why we think GMO labeling is silly…

Why Non-GMO soybeans?

First things first, planting Non-GMO soybeans is very, very different from organic farming, and frankly, the two aren’t really alike at all in my opinion. Planting Non-GMO soybeans is more like farming with GE soybeans than most think, but with a few extra quirks and rules to follow. Our non-GMO soybeans are exported and made into tofu. I’m going to touch on a few areas (not all) of why we chose to plant non-GMO soybeans on our farm this year.

  1. Market – There is a better and bigger market for non-GMO, food grade soybeans than ever before. Creating this market has been something that farmers asked for as the need for protein options has risen in other countries. Our soybean growers association has worked hard to capitalize on this development and invest in the research to grow this specialty market over the past few years. New food-grade seed varieties continue to be developed that are higher in certain protein contents or select oils depending on what they will be used for in the end market.
  2. Price – We receive a higher premium for our soybeans because they are a specialty product. We do have to complete a few more tasks with planting non-GM soybeans like carefully cleaning out bins and trucks to avoid contamination and using only certain approved chemicals. We have to sign a contract similar to what one might sign with GE seed, except our contract revolves around identity preservation and the number of bushels we have agreed to grow. As crop prices continue to drop, farmers are looking to find an extra bushel or take off-farm jobs. The price premium on non-GMO soybeans is one of those options for farmers. Typically, the seed costs less than GE seed which means our end cost of production isn’t as high.
  3.  Tillage- I read a post that said that non-GMO farmers use more tillage than conventional farmers due to weeds. We did no more tillage than we do when we plant GE soybeans or GE corn. In fact, we did no-till in some of our fields this year. Again, planting non-GMO is not the same as organics which may rely on additional cultivation or flame weeding. We do have options chemical wise we can use for weeds. We didn’t use anymore chemical than we typically use in a given year, but we did use different kinds because we can’t use glyphosate, for example.
  4.  Bushels –This is always the main question we get. Will my bushels be on par with GE? Possibly. Possibly not. Every field is different based on soil type, nutrients, even weather patterns vary since we have fields in 3 different counties for us. We had hail damage in some fields compared to none in others. Some had standing water while others did not. All of those factors can impact bushels. However, typically we average around 50-55 bushels per field for our non-GMO soybeans, but we have had fields that have reached into the upper 70’s for bushels per acre this year.
  5. Traits – Some of the traits we look for in non-GMO soybeans are the same as what we look for in GE soybeans – resistance to certain fungus, drought tolerance, past performance on bushels per acre, etc. We also pay close attention to oleic concentration, protein concentration and even hilum color because those are the traits looked at for premiums in a food-grade, non-GMO soybean.

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It would be a shame to just say farmers are against GE soybeans, when I don’t think that is the case, and certainly not for us. Capitalizing on new opportunities and markets to create expanded profits and options for farmers is a good thing. You don’t have to plant GE and you don’t have to plant non-GMO. It isn’t for everyone, and how you choose to operate your farm versus your neighbor will be different. It works for us, but it won’t work for everyone. We certainly aren’t dismissing modern technology – in fact, I’d love if every crop was GE and we never had to worry about using a chemical ever, but that isn’t the case.

Farmers will have to continue to evolve with new market trends, new growth markets, and evaluate their current operations in order to succeed. Farmers are finding that planting value-added soybeans can be one of those pathways for their farm to succeed.

-Sara

We Bought a Farm!

I’ve been dropping hints, but now that we have officially signed the papers, I can announce…

We Bought A Farm!

Our little slice of land is 25 acres with a home, a machine shed, and a few other outbuildings.

Our slice of country living. A big old square farm house, a big machine shed, and multiple outbuildings.

Our slice of country living. A big old square farm-house, a big machine shed, and multiple outbuildings.

We have been working so hard to get to this day, and over the course of the next few weeks, I will be writing about things we did to position ourselves to purchase, things we chose to overlook, and why we chose what we did. Being young farmers, it wasn’t easy by any means, but hard work does pay off.

We are so excited to be able to finally have our place in the country, where we can bring our livestock home finally, make some livestock additions, farm our own land, and raise our daughter. It is an amazing feeling, even if that feeling comes with the added hard work and long days. We know it will be very rewarding.

I will be posting photos of all of our renovations, changes, and work that we do to the farm. Frankly, it needs a lot of work, but that is part of how we were able to afford it at ages 25 and 27. We are willing to put in the hard work needed to fix the farm up.

I will be starting a series about our Farm House Renovations on this blog that will include our home plans, barn changes, fencing, clean-up, etc. for all to see. A few friends have asked me to do a post or two on what we did to set ourselves up to be able to purchase a farm. I will be upfront right now and tell you that we did not utilize a FSA loan of any kind for the purchase which is what most young and beginning farmers do. For us, the FSA loan did not fit into our timeline nor did it like the home with the land, so we opted for a traditional mortgage with our bank. Having a good relationship with your banker and credible relationships with your FBM instructor and others in the community goes a very long ways. We were blessed to have them work with us and for us every step of the way to get it done.

We are equal parts terrified and excited for this next chapter of our lives. Renovations will be done in phases, I’ve already got plans for chickens and a pig will be making its way home with me after a career fair event in April. My poor husband doesn’t know what he got himself in to on the livestock front! He didn’t grow up with livestock, and I did, so it has been something I have greatly missed. Razzy will be moving to her permanent home early summer – we have been so blessed with where we have boarded her the past 2 years, and we know that she will miss it. We are in the process of looking for a friend for her, as she has bonded with her pasture mate there.

We will be showcasing our honey house renovation on the blog as well – we are so excited for that part! We are hoping it will be running by fall so we can open it to guests to come and watch honey extraction.

There are times where we turn to each other and go what did we get ourselves into with the amount of work, time, and money we have already put in and all we know we still have to do, but we go back to our phases plan, and our little sketches of what we want our farm site to look like, and it keeps us trucking along.

The wallpaper blues...I literally have about 3 feet of wall done and I want to throw in the towel.

The wallpaper blues…I literally have about 3 feet of wall done and I want to throw in the towel.

We wouldn’t mind if you offered your help with fencing, tearing down a barn, removing wallpaper or tiling a floor either…hint hint to any professionals out there! We are also looking for deals on used equipment, fencing, feeders, etc. as well so if you are in our area and you know you have some you are looking at parting with – let us know. ;)

A big step, with lots of big dreams, all laid into workable plans. That is what we are doing. Building our farm, and building our future. Scary but exciting. Yeap, that is what I’m sticking with.

-Sara

The 10 Best Things to Do at the Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair starts August 27th and runs through Labor Day. It is known as the largest state fair in the country with the most food choices! I can’t believe it is already here, as the MN State Fair is the last hurrah to summer!

I’m 25 years old, and I’ve been going to the fair for 26 years…or so the story goes in my family. My family has a long running history as part of the Great Minnesota Get Together, and I dearly miss working up there for the 12 best days of summer! I can remember when “corndogus eternus” was a phrase every Minnesotan was saying. After working there for 5 years, and attending for many more, I have compiled “The 10 Best Things to Do at the Minnesota State Fair!

1. Hawaiian Shaved Ice.  Walk a block or so down from the main gate (gate 5 on Snelling Ave & Dan Patch) and you will find a staple of the MN State Fair…Hawaiian Shaved Ice. This is a snow cone extraordinaire! It is usually the first thing I head for when I get to the fair. With over 20 flavors to choose from, including bubble gum and tropical (my favorite) you can’t leave without making a stop here! I am still waiting for the day they bring back wedding cake flavor. Yum!

Hawaiian Shaved Ice Stand at the MN State Fair!

Hawaiian Shaved Ice Stand at the MN State Fair! Photo courtesy of the MN State Fair

 

2. The Minnesota Farm Bureau Building. One of the best places to visit at the fair!  You can learn all about agriculture, talk with farmers, get recipes, and get yourself a FREE insulated lunch bag! It is a great time to get your questions about what happens on a farm answered. There are fun facts all about Minnesota agriculture throughout the building and a special space dedicated to pollinators this year! There is even an interactive Ag Cab Lab that kids can drive. There is both a combine and tractor that kids (and adults!) can hop in and plant and harvest a crop.

Stop by the Ag Cab Lab in the Minnesota Farm Bureau building!

Stop by the Ag Cab Lab in the Minnesota Farm Bureau building!

3. The Daily Parade! Every day at 2pm, a parade goes through the fairgrounds. It features a marching band competition, giant cows, crazy bicyclists and more. Fair goers can line the parade route, and watch. The marching band competition is a unique feature of the parade, and one you don’t want to miss. Bands have intricate marching formations, play fun music and often have everything from flag girls to baton twirlers. Don’t forget to wave at the Princess Kay of the Milky Way when the royalty float goes by!

Marching band competition during the MN State Fair parade. Photo courtesy of the MN State Fair.

Marching band competition during the MN State Fair parade. Photo courtesy of the MN State Fair.

4. The CHS Miracle of Birth Center. If you haven’t been, go. Witness the birth of piglets, calves, goats and sheep! You can get up close with baby chicks, bunnies and piglets. Typically, there are over 200 live births during the MN State Fair in the Miracle of Birth Center! It is a must stop to better understand farming and where food comes from.

5. Ye Old Mill. 2015 mark’s the 100th anniversary of the fair’s oldest attraction – the Ye Old Mill! We usually go for a spin on one of the wooden boats about every 3 years, but considering it is the 100th anniversary, we might have to go this year! You can catch a ride on a wooden boat through the dark tunnels for $3.25 per person.

Ye Old Mill celebrates 100 years this year! Photo courtesy of MN State Fair.

Ye Old Mill celebrates 100 years this year! Photo courtesy of MN State Fair.

6. Drink! If you love craft brews or wine tasting, the MN State Fair is the place for you! This year’s lineup includes some interesting new ones such as: S’mores beer, Minnesota Iceberg & Cherry Rhubarb Hard Cider! Provided that the MN State Fair has lots of greasy food to counteract the alcohol, I do suggest sharing some of these drinks with your friends or significant other, that way you have more room for food and sampling!

Last year, Mark tried the mini donut flavored beer!

Last year, Mark tried the mini donuts flavored beer!

7. Ball Park Cafe. If you aren’t stopping for the food & mini donuts beer (which you should), at least swing by to see the extraordinary red Zubaz that are part of the attire the employees wear! Let’s take a minute to talk about THE garlic fries. Please don’t worry about your  breath, they are worth it! The fries are all sorts of flavor delicious and a perfect crisp! They’ve also perfected the deep-fried rib, and have an impressive line-up of MN Beers.

Garlic fries from Ball Park Cafe, along with a Hawaiian Shaved Ice!

Garlic fries from Ball Park Cafe, along with a Hawaiian Shaved Ice!

8. The Leinie Lodge Bandshell. If you are looking for fantastic and free entertainment, the Leinie Lodge is the place to be. They have some awesome acts this year including the Willis Clan (I became a nerd about this show while home on maternity leave), Tonic Sol-Fa, The Wright Brothers and C. Willi Myles! A lot of times you can catch some of best up and coming acts here for free, and within the year they are on tour with someone. It also is a great place to relax in some of their lounge chairs or on the benches!

The Leinie Lodge Bandshell! Photo courtesy of the MN State Fair.

The Leinie Lodge Bandshell! Photo courtesy of the MN State Fair.

9. The Lee & Rose Warner Coliseum. The coliseum is a must do for many reasons. There is excellent shopping underneath the coliseum. I am hoping that the Sloggers will be back this year as I need another pair, but there are fun clothing places, metal artists, jewelry and more. There are a ton of shows that you can attend for free at the coliseum including: horse performances, stock dog trials and dairy shows. The horse shows are usually pretty awesome. My favorite is the draft supreme six-horse hitch show! It is really something to see that many animals working in unison to move a wagon! There is always something going on, so stop in and sit awhile and enjoy a show!

A dairy show in the coliseum at the MN State Fair. Photo courtesy of the MN State Fair.

A dairy show in the coliseum at the MN State Fair. Photo courtesy of the MN State Fair.

10. The Giant Slide. You can’t leave the State Fair without taking a ride down the Giant Slide. It has been m favorite since I was a tiny tot and it is a must do for children and adults. I can’t wait for next year when Harper will be old enough to go on it! It only costs $2.50 per rider, so it won’t break the bank either. There is just something mystical about climbing up all those stairs and then speeding down on a gunny sack with the wind whipping your hair while smells of grilled corn on the cob and deep-fried cheese curds fill the air. So worth it.

The Giant Slide is a crowd favorite at the fair! Photo courtesy of the MN State Fair.

The Giant Slide is a crowd favorite at the fair! Photo courtesy of the MN State Fair.

 

I sincerely hope you make a visit to the MN State Fair as part of your end of summer plans. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed! From art displays to everything on a stick to dog surgeries to high-flying trampoline acrobatics to milking a cow, there is something for everyone. I didn’t even touch on the shopping available at the Bazaar and Heritage Place or in the Grandstand. I didn’t talk about favorites like the education building where you can get weighed or walk away with a free tree to plant at your home! Hopefully this post helped you narrow down some of what you want to do at the Great Minnesota Get Together! We’re a fun bunch! :)

-Sara

Hit the Brakes…It is August Already?

This past weekend the calendar rolled over to August 1st. How did this happen? Where did summer go? I really just want to hit the brakes. Push pause. I’m trying to enjoy slower nights on the patio, watering flowers, and picking green beans from the garden but there is also a lot of work to be done. We still have a list a mile long of things we need to finish around the house before harvest season.

Our baby girl will be 4 months old already on the 16th of August. She’s rolling over, talking like crazy, loves sitting up as much as she can, and I’m pretty certain Auntie Becky might be her favorite from the way she laughs when she’s around. Miss Harper is finally starting to get a little bit of chubs on her so she’s hopefully catching up on the growth chart.

Sticking her tongue out is a skill in her book.

Sticking her tongue out is a skill in her book.

Love that smile!

Love that smile!

We cut wheat in July this year. We tried planting wheat as a cover crop, a crop we use to help hold soil in place over the winter, a few years ago and didn’t have much success. This year, we were able to actually have a wheat harvest. The hubs spent some time getting the combine ready for the first small grains harvest it had seen, and Kevin and Ray combined it all in one day. We also baled the wheat straw and now have wheat straw available. We already have our livestock covered where we board for bedding, so we will most likely sell this online or send it to an auction.

Winter wheat we had planted for a cover crop on about 70 acres.

Winter wheat we had planted for a cover crop on about 70 acres.

Winter wheat we harvested in July.

Winter wheat we harvested in July.

We’ve also been busy cutting and baling hay. The hubs and I have about 4 acres of grass hay that we use for our beef steer and horse. We hire out some of it, and then borrow equipment from a friend to cut the rest. The hubs and I have been searching for our own hay equipment, but with low crop prices, purchasing equipment can be difficult, so the deals we have worked out now with friends are what we operate with. The barter system works great most days when you are a young and beginning farmer.

cutting hay. Yes, this was our first cutting off this field...we got a little behind this summer!

cutting hay. Yes, this was our first cutting off this field…we got a little behind this summer!

We have been watching our corn grow all summer. We check it about once a week for issues with insects, fungus, etc. Thankfully, we have had a very good growing season here in Minnesota. I always remember my Dad saying “we plant the seed, but God gives the harvest.” We continue to say prayers for a bountiful and save harvest season.

farm field rural mn

-Sara

Honeybee Update

Doesn’t it seem like summer just started and now we only have a month left?

We are busy making some last-minute purchases for our bees, and getting ready to plan our fall extraction – which will be our first time extracting!

As many of you know, we expanded from 2 hives to 12 this year with 2 different breeds of bees – Italian and Russians. We have our bees in 2 different locations and are excited to get a crop of honey this year!

Frame of capped honey.

Frame of capped honey.

Pictured above is a full frame of capped honey. The white capping is the wax that bees put over the comb of pure honey to seal it. This is what we extract. We cut the wax capping off with a capping knife, and then place the frame inside an extractor to extract the honey. We are going to try making both honey sticks and lip balm in addition to honey. Starting in September, we will be very busy with extracting and bottling!

These are our Italian bees.

These are our Italian bees.

Although we aren’t sure if all of our hives will winter over this year, we will once again be prepping our hives for winter around the end of September/early October. We never really know if our bees will make it through or not, as it depends on many factors including weather, honey stores, and colony strength to name a few. It is a struggle we face as bee keepers, and one we can’t do much about. We can do everything in our power to get them off to a good start including feeding them, treating them for issues when needed, placing them in the right location and more.

We are already making plans to expand our hives again next year, and expand into a secondary business of backyard pollinator hive rentals! If you want to follow what we are doing all summer with the bees, and check out more photos, visit our Facebook page!

-Sara