What’s All the Buzz About?

That’s the title on the most clever and creative display board I’ve seen in a while.¬† ūüėȬ† Ok, yes, I made it so I’m quite fond of it and insist that it is put up at honeybee presentations!

Today, Rob gave a presentation to a group of kids attending the STEM camp at PES.  The star of the show really is the observation hive that he built a couple of years ago.  The kids are always enthralled by watching the honeybees doing their thing on the visible frame, spotting the queen, and seeing the eggs and larvae.  I love that kids are interested in the honeybees and what they do, that they are soaking up the information and learning about honeybees.

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HalfAst Update

Being true to the farm name has been easy – we’ve been quite half-assed about updating the blog!¬† It’s time to change that, though.

Last year around this time, we signed a contract to purchase a home.¬† The sellers were an ordeal in themselves, but we were steadfast and we survived!¬† We really love the new homestead, and the location is perfect.¬† We had been admiring this place from our old house the whole time we lived there.¬† There’s a lot of work to do, always, but we are grateful for our new home, and enjoying the space and freedoms it allows us.

The garden:¬† It’s the largest we’ve ever had; we’re looking forward to a bountiful harvest for¬†canning, freezing, eating, and sharing.¬† Night before last, we had the first zucchini of the season with dinner.¬† It was delicious!

The animals: The new house came with a beautiful India Blue peacock we call Bill, and numerous Guinea fowl.¬† I’m in the market for a peahen lady friend for Bill, if you know of any available.¬† We still have the New Zealand meat rabbits, hens, and honeybees.¬†¬†¬† We’ve added more pullets (two of the kids are participating in Chick Chain with 4-H), current could is 19 for the kids and 7 for me, in addition to the 4 remaining hens.¬† Abby recently took an interest in the 4-H sheep project, so last month we bought 4 lambs – 3 ewes and a ram.¬† This past weekend we purchased 2 young calves – a red Angus and a baldy (Hereford / black Angus cross).¬† We’re looking forward to adding more calves and possibly swine to the homestead.

So that’s it for now – we’ll try to be a little less half-assed with updates!¬† ūüėÄ

bill calves rabbits sheep

Beekeeping – Winterizing Hives

It’s been getting cooler in the evenings (down into the mid 40’s F), so¬†I decided to make the cut over to solid bottom boards, reduce entrances, and leave vent covers in place for a bit more. Came back later that evening and put insulation on in the dark (after I finished a 4-H obligation).

Hint: At about 1:12 in the video you can see my reaction to one of the¬†little ladies making a¬†quick ascent up my leg inside my pants¬†(sorry I went off camera though).¬†I didn’t get stung,¬†but the neighbors got a show!


Insulated Hives (2) Insulated Hives (1)

Beekeeping – Winterizing Observation Hive

I’ve really been troubled as to what to do for the colony in the observation hive. After a great deal of debate, I decided to put the queen and brood back down into the Nuc, move them into the shed and insulate them for winter… hope it works.¬†Here are some of the details:


That evening, I moved them into the shed, insulated them and created a plastic entrance/exit out of the shed (pictures from the following day).

Observation in the  Shed (1)

Observation in the  Shed (3)

Observation in the  Shed (4)

Observation in the  Shed (5)


Beekeeping – 4-H Farm Day Exhibit

The Loudon County 4-H office holds an annual ‚ÄúFarm Day‚ÄĚ in which they bring 4th graders from all over the county to Sweetwater Valley Farm for a day of exhibits and learning.¬†This year, I was asked to be an exhibitor for beekeeping¬†and wow, what an experience!

I decided early on that I wanted to build an observation hive for the event and after it was finished, I performed a split from one of my hives and asked a friend of the family to foster them until they could return. I don’t think it was too much of a hardship for Angie, she’s pretty eager to get her own colony as soon as possible (thanks again Angie).

Melissa created a really great tri-fold board; we gathered up wax chunks, candles, protective gear, a smoker, the solar wax melter, an empty hive, a model hive, captured some hive beetles, gathered propolis and comb along with all kinds of interesting display stuff and headed down to the farm. At the event, I had three 4-H’ers¬†(Emily, Robby, Eion) that really stole the show, they did an outstanding job all day long talking to students and teaching them about honey bees. We were told there were over 500 students ‚Äď 27 classes, probably 20 students per plus parents, teachers, event staff and tons more ‚Äď how great is that.

News Harold Article –


Farm Day  (3) Farm Day  (4) Farm Day  (5) Farm Day  (6) Farm Day  (7) Farm Day  (8) Farm Day  (9) Farm Day  (10) Farm Day  (1) Farm Day  (2)

Beekeeping – Solar Wax Melter

So we’ve got some friends of the family and Al is a long time beekeeper with a pretty cool take¬†on a solar wax melter using a plastic bin. I had looked¬†over a few designs for wooden ones and such, then decided on a blend of materials for a model very similar to Al’s. Thanks Al.

Basic Materials

  • Plastic Bin – I went for the thicker material and square-ish design of the DuraBuilt bin with the yellow top.
  • A piece of sheet metal – 24″ x 36″ from the HVAC section, not the metals section as it’s twice¬†the price!
  • Plexiglas – ¬†18″ x 24″
  • Piece of Cedar (I already had) – I guess it was a 1″ x 6″ x 6′
  • Piano Hinge (already had) – probably 24″
  • 2″ x 4″ pine cut-offs from the waste bin (scraps)
  • A cheesy silicone pan from Goodwill as a catch basin for hot wax
  • Scrap pieces of that pink 1/2″ foam insulation
  • Black spray paint
  • Fine screen / cheesecloth for straining


Semi-Finished Product

Melter (18)

Melter (17)

Melter (14)

Melter (19)

Melter (15)

Melter (21)

Melter (10)

Melter (13)

As it set, the temperatures would run around 160¬į F, so I decided to line the inside with 1/2″ pink insulation and to paint the inside surfaces black which set the temps up to¬†210¬į F (high as¬†I saw).

I ran it a few times playing with it and collecting the big bits and pieces, then ran my collections as a whole adding some cheesecloth to the process as a filter and changed the collection pan to small crock (also a Good Will find) and was really was impressed with the final product. A solid chunk of clean wax.

Bring on the wax molds, here come the candles.




Beekeeping – Top Feeder Insert Fix

I’ve tried a few styles when it comes to feeders and have determined two things:

  1.  I really like top feeders as opposed to entrance feeders (I just don’t like period) and frame feeders (I consider invasive for regular feeding).
  2. Bees are determined to drown themselves.

That being said, I especially like the idea of the plastic inserts…

Top Feeder Plastic Insert
Top Feeder Plastic Insert

but don’t know if anyone else has had the same problem with bees escaping and drowning (little buggers). At first, it seems like a really good design, but, after heavy casualties I decided to take another look at it.

The design appears to be missing something to keep the sides from flexing open, after some thought, I decided on a simple fix based on those metal bands you put on table cloths when you go camping.

So I grabbed an electrician’s fish tape as my material of choice and made a few bends in it. Here’s how.

Electrician's Fish Tape

Measure out about 3 1/4″ and bend over 90 Degrees like so

3 1/4" x 90 Degrees

Followed by another bend at 1 3/4″, again over 90 Degrees

1 3/4" x 90 Degrees

Cut off¬†at 3 1/4″

3 1/4"

Add two small bends about a 1/2″ from the ends to keep it from digging into your screen

Slight Bends

Use the new clip to pinch the sides tight all the way down to the liquid level


Put the screw back in, this time trap your clip in place with the shoulder of the screw.

screw back in

Pay no attention to the sealant tape, I had to close a few holes (caused from a quick fix while still in the hive).


Hope this helps.