3 of My Farm Heroes

I farm 1/20th of an acre. That's about 750 fewer than what I grew up on. I have a micro-farm, but that's what fits my lifestyle right now. I work a full time job off the farm, and my micro-farm is a profitable hobby. I love continuous improvement, optimization and lean systems, which has driven some of my mindset to turn my hobby into a profitable venture.

I sometimes feel conflicted with the fact that I'm farming part-time. Sometimes I think I'd rather be farming full time. As I reflect on the place in life that the Lord has placed me, I'm comforted by 3 of my farm heroes, who at various points in their life, also farmed part-time.

Jim Howerton

My dad, Jim, is the sixth generation from a line of Howertons who settled a farm in West Central Missouri. He was born in the middle of the 1950s and grew up in the era of tractor power, but not the ones that are very comfortable to operate! He's a very calm, gentle, driven man. He farmed for nearly 40 years, then spent the next 2 decades of his life in the public sector, serving as a State Representative in Missouri's 120th District, as well as various other administrative roles. He worked double duty, keeping Missouri tax dollars working effectively, and through the 1990s, strained to keep the family farm moving productively through some of the most difficult family-farm economic terrain of the 20th century. He's a very hard worker who never complains.

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J.D. Howerton

He was granddad to me, and was part of The Greatest Generation. Born in 1926, he served during WWII, then took over the farm at the age of 19 when his father was tragically killed in a farming accident. I got to work many hours with him through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, and learned much of my farming and mechanical skills from him. The longest bit of time I worked with him was over a summer during college - we cleared about 100 acres of brush, me with a chainsaw, and he with a Caterpillar Bulldozer. It was miserably hot, but I didn't know how much I would treasure this time I had with him. He was a quick witted jokester. He was an incredibly hard worker, but such a gentle guy and nearly always had a smile, or smirk on his face. I laugh as I write this, thinking of how much fun he could have with the simple moments of life. In his retirement years, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to become a real estate broker and open his own real estate company. 

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John Adams

As in America's 2nd president. What a guy. I read about him recently in David McCoulough's Biography. He was an amazingly successful diplomat in our country's uncharted, formative years who ended up following George Washington as president. And the guy LOVED farming. After his years as president, he longed to remove himself from the public eye and earn his living from his farm 15 miles south of Boston in Braintree, MA. He and Thomas Jefferson, one of America's most intelligent thinkers, exchanged letters about the happenings of their farms, and which cover crops they found to be most effective. As I plant buckwheat for my honeybees, I think of Jefferson telling Adams how well it was growing in rotation on his farm at Monticello.

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Three amazing men who I take inspiration from as I pursue the work in front of me, either on, or off the farm.

5 Things You'll Need to Start Your Backyard Farm

I have a backyard farm. It's a micro-farm that covers 2000 square feet. If you have a hard time imagining what 2000 square feet looks like, imagine the size of a volleyball court, or slightly smaller than a half of a basketball court. If you want to know more about our family values and why I've focused my efforts on 2000 square feet, read this post.

I decided to focus on 1 crop to keep my focus as limited as possible. I have 3 children between ages 2 and 5. And a full-time job. And a beautiful wife. And I'm happily married and want to stay that way. So at the tip of a friend, I decided to focus on spinach because of its relative ease to market and sell. Many retailers need spinach - nearly any restaurant uses spinach in multiple salads and dishes, grocery stores sell shelves of it, juice bars use hundreds of pounds monthly.

I had a hard time committing to the simple act of ordering seeds until I could get my list of needs on paper with a corresponding budget. Once I got my ideas out on paper, I felt more confident with having a list of what I'd need. Here are 5 critical things I learned would be needed to start.

Soil

Seems a little basic, right? I already have soil in my backyard. Grass grows in it. But I decided to import compost rather than work the soil in my backyard. I had heard repeatedly from experienced farmers on Chris Blanchard's "Farmer to Farmer" podcast that biologically diverse, organically rich soil is the foundation for any successful crop, and a non-ignorable best practice. Fortunately, our local city has a fantastic composting program and I was able to buy 20 cubic yards of great, seed-free, weed-free compost for $400 (that's $20 per yard for those of you pulling out your calculator).  I also had to contract a dump truck to haul it to me, which cost another $150. This has been the most expensive part of the micro-farm investment so far. It's been well worth it to have weed-free, organically rich, easy to work soil that has yielded a great crop.

Wheelbarrow and Shovel

You'll need to spread all your soil to a depth of about 3 - 4 inches. I used a freebie wheelbarrow and shovel set that was given to me by a friend. Even better if you have a utility tractor available to spread the load of soil. But if you have to use your back like me, you can do the whole job over a weekend in about 15 hours, or less if you get help from a friend. You can buy both on Amazon for about $60.

Direct Seeder

Unless you have a ridiculous amount of time on your hands and absolutely love the tedium of planting tiny seeds by hand, a direct seeder, like an Earthway Seeder (Amazon for about $110) is a must! I was able to plant a 2000 square foot plot in about 30 minutes. If I'd planted by hand, it would have taken me a day. The Earthway Seeder was easy enough to use, and my kids were able to "help" me! I've loved having my kids involved, even if my rows end up a bit crooked, or my crop yield is a bit lower. They are working hard with me, which normalizes hard work from an early age, and I get to teach them basic biology, farming practices, and the beauty of economics and entrepreneurship. I'm seeing them learn firsthand that hard work is profitable (Prov 14:23).

Here's a video of my son using our seeder, which looks quite a bit like me when I first tried using it. Enjoy.

 

Seeds

I used two different varieties: Space and Seaside from Johnny's. Space came at the recommendation of a well known micro-farmer named Curtis Stone. It has been a good variety with a good yield. I gambled on Seaside. I read that it is a good, heat-tolerant variety that stays smaller and is good for harvesting baby leaves. I think I've preferred Seaside! I ordered two 10,000 seed packs - one of each variety and spend less than $25. 

Irrigation

I used a very simple sprinkler made by Melnor for irrigation. You can get much more high-tech with your irrigation. My dream is to use the Rachio smart sprinkler controller, but there's no need to spend this much money to start. You can water a large plot with the Melnor model for about $20.

I've listed some of the basics for starting your own backyard farm. In total, I invested about $1000 in the first phase of my backyard farm, which I was able to make back in the first 2 months of sales. If you would like to have my complete list of must have items for starting your own back yard farm, click the button below and I'll email you my personal list with a corresponding budget!

How Do Bees Make Honey?

One of the most common questions I get is how to bees make honey, so I’m going to answer that for you here! The honeybee has a tongue that works like a straw. It’s called a proboscis. It also has a stomach that it can store nectar in that’s called a honey stomach.

Each type of flower or flowering tree produces nectar, which is a very watery substance made of sugar and essential oils and lots of other really neat things. The bee comes along, sticks out its tongue and drinks the nectar and fills up its honey stomach, then it takes the nectar back to the colony and fills up the honey comb, where it begins to dehydrate. Its moisture content needs to be 18% or less, otherwise it will ferment and spoil, and the bees know how to do this (incredible!). Then it’s honey!

So a few fun facts: a bee can only carry about .003 oz of nectar in its honey stomach which is about 1/3 of its body weight; it’s significant. So knowing that, we could say that it takes about 5000 deposits from the honey stomach to make a single jar of honey. Another way to think about it is that it takes 500 honebees working their entire, 6 week life to make a single, small jar of honey.

Watch this video to see a quick overview of how bees make honey. Then go over to our products and get a jar for yourself. You’re going to love it!

Honeybee Swarms and Removals

Spring is honeybee swarm season. There will be more swarms during this time than any other point in the year. But what is a swarm? Generally, people are frightened when they see a cloud of bees flying through a neighborhood, or a cluster of bees hanging near their home or work. Thankfully, swarms are typically very docile. Here are some answers to common swarm questions.

If you have a bee swarm or live colony that needs to be removed in Nashville, Brentwood, Franklin, Spring Hill Tennessee or surrounding areas , please call or text 615-289-7334.  Alternatively, you can fill out the form below, but calling or texting will be the fastest response.

What is a swarm?

 Cluster of honeybees

Cluster of honeybees

A swarm is a population of bees that has left an established hive in search of a new home. Studies show that approximately 70% of the bees leave their established colony when they swarm. The swarm is made up of a majority of worker bees and their queen.

Why do they swarm?

This is a bit complicated, so I'll simplify where necessary for brevity. Swarms occur as part of the process of the queen of the colony being naturally replaced. Queen bees can lay over 1500 eggs per day in their peak productivity. Experts say that queens are most productive for up to 3 years, and then their productivity begins to decrease. The entire colony, 60,000 bees, is aware of the queen's strength based on the amount of pheromone the queen releases. Bees are social insects and communicate and exist in close proximity to each other. As the queen releases her unique pheromone, her 'scent' passes through the colony like a wave, being passed from bee to bee so that the entire colony is aware of how strong the queen is. As she ages, she produces less of her pheromone which queues the colony to begin rearing a new queen. The queen lays an egg in a specially designed cell suited for a queen. The nurse bees feed the growing larvae a special diet, which is what causes it to develop the organs the queen needs to lay eggs.

A short time after the new queen hatches, 70% of the colony along with the old queen depart the hive in search of a new home. That's the cluster of bees you see hanging from the tree in your backyard.

Why do they cluster?

After the swarm has left their colony, they cluster in a suitable place while the scouts search a cavity for their new home. They typically hang in their cluster for less than 48 hours. That's why beekeepers need to act quickly, to catch the swarm before they leave.

Are they aggressive?

Typically not. Swarming bees, although they can appear chaotic, are rarely aggressive. One reason for this: they have very little to defend. They have no nest which means they have no honey stored or brood to protect. Therefore they don't pose much of a threat if they are not treated aggressively. I work with a guy who, during his childhood, threw a rock into a swarm of bees that were clustered in a tree. They went crazy.

An exception to the rule that clustered bees are calm would be when the cluster remains in the same spot for several days. Although this is uncommon, they will sometimes begin to draw comb on the branch and begin to make what is called an open-air nest. They can begin to be more protective when they have begun building a home worth protecting. 

If I see a swarm, what do I do?

Stay calm and contact me! Either call/text 615-289-7334 or fill out the form below. I would be happy to help you remove them. Make sure you include details about the location of the swarm, if it's in a tree, the eve of a house, a fence post, etc. and leave a callback number so I can reach you. 

What if I have live bees living in my house?

This is not uncommon. Although this is not a swarm, I can help you and you should get in touch soon! This is considered a cutout, or honeybee removal. Bees living inside a home can be a nuisance and should be removed. The removal needs to be done correctly. Simply killing the bees with a pesticide will create bigger problems. Although the bees would be gone, the comb they left behind can melt on hot days making a mess of the structure. The honey left behind will attract mice, rats, ants and other pests for weeks and months to come. Also, the odor of the decaying bees will be present for months. A proper removal includes opening the cavity, removing the bees and the comb, preserving as much as possible so that the colony can be relocated and continue producing, pollinating and making honey for us to enjoy. 

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10 Things to Know About Being Stung

Like a bee, we distill poison from honey for our self-defense - what happens to the bee when it uses its sting is well known
— Dag Hammarskjold

I don't know a beekeeper who hasn't been stung. I think it's inevitable. However, my bees are gentle. I am exposed to hundreds of thousands of bees every week and I only get stung a few times per year, usually when I'm being careless. Here are a few points from my experience.

  1. A worker bee will not typically sting unless threatened or pestered. Once they sting they die. Their stinger is attached to a venom sack which is inside the bees abdomen, and the stinger is barbed. Once the stinger is planted in your skin, the only way for the bee to remove itself from your body is to crawl away from the stinger, now an anchor, which rips the stinger and venom sack from its body. It will die a short time later. 
  2. The best way to remove a stinger is by scraping it out using a dull blade or credit card or whatever resembles a dull blade and is close by. The venom sack has an attached muscle that pulses venom into the sting site even after the bee liberates itself from the sting site, so the sooner you can remove it the better. If you try to use your thumb and index finger like tweezers to pull the stinger out, you'll likely just squeeze all the venom into your body in the process. 
  3. They say it takes approximately 1000 stings to kill an adult human. This is good to know, but not especially comforting. The most I've been stung is about 25 times within an hour, which is pretty miserable. After taking a few dozen stings, my hands started tingling and I began breaking out in hives. I called it an afternoon before anything started swelling closed. 
  4. Although Benadryl should be the first step to control an allergic reaction after being stung, beekeepers are wise to keep an epinephrine pen handy. 
  5. Some veteran Beekeepers can take a sting and hardly bat an eye. I find it extremely difficult to keep my adrenaline from rushing after an initial sting, leading to a fight-or-flight moment. I'm usually not up for sticking around to fight angry honeybees. 
  6. When bees sting and their stinger is left behind in your skin, a unique pheromone is released at the site of the sting. The other bees can detect the pheromone  and target the sting site. It's like a bulls-eye marking the spot for more, searing pain.
  7. The pheromone bees release when they sting smells like bananas. If stung repeatedly, the air will be permeated with the smell of bananas.  
  8. Using a smoker to blow smoke at the site of a sting can mask the sting pheromone and protect a beekeeper from an ensuing onslaught. 
  9. The Queen bee can sting repeatedly, but will rarely sting the beekeeper, even if she is handled. She commonly uses her sting to kill competing queens in the colony when she is born.
  10. Drone bees do not have a stinger. They don't sting. You can really mess with people by putting one in your mouth, then letting it fly away. 

7 Things to Know About the Bee Yard

There are a number of things that make an ideal place to keep bees. An absence of one or two is not a deal-breaker, but optimizing the bee yard location will increase the likelihood of successful beekeeping, bee health and honey production. Here are a few things to know before placing your bees.

  1. Having easy, year round access to your bees is important. Certain times of the year require more visits to the colonies than others, so don't make the location of your hives a hurdle to getting work done. If bad weather can make your path impassible, this could be a problem as you progress through the season. Don't put the hives at the bottom of a hill that you can't drive near. A medium honey super full of honey weighs around 50 pounds, and a deep is closer to 90 pounds. Having to carry these up a hill will make you question your hobby.
  2. Ensure that you have a water source nearby. Although they'll travel miles to forage, having a creek, stream, pond or bird bath less than 1/4 mile is great. Ideally, the water source would be natural and not something you have to keep in your mental checklist to refill routinely. Also, bees love saltwater. If your neighbors have a saltwater pool, you'll owe them all your honey to keep your relationship amiable.
  3. A windbreak, especially to north winds, is great. In the absence of a natural windbreak, bales of hay can be used to break the wind in the winter.
  4. Access to first light in the morning helps warm the hive and allows the bees to work earlier than they would if they are shaded and cold.
  5. Pick a site that is near a dependable nectar and pollen crop. Monoculture sites allow the beekeeper to make a varietal honey, but having floral sources that bloom successively gives the bees diverse nutrition.
  6. A site that has good water drainage is important. Near a floodplain or marshy grounds is a risk. 
  7. A spot that gets 4 - 6 hours of sun, but catches shade in the afternoon will help reduce pests, but also keep the hive cooler in the summer. Since bees have to devote resources, like bees, to fan the hive and keep it cool, a shady location will allow more bees to work on gathering nectar and making honey.

7 Fascinating Facts about Honeybees

February 1, 2014, was my start in beekeeping. I spent an hour at nearby garden nursery information session learning about beekeeping. I was blown away! I had some misconceptions about beekeeping, about honeybees and I learned enough to set me on fire. I continued researching to satisfy the passion that was started. Here are a few things I learned.

 Worker Honeybee

Worker Honeybee

  1. Honeybees are not migratory. This may be common knowledge to some, but I imagined that honeybees needed warm temperatures to survive. Honeybees do not fly south for the winter, but cluster together during the winter as needed to keep warm. They feed from their honey stores that they’ve worked so hard to make during the warmer months when nectar and pollen were prevalent.

  2. Beekeeping can be a backyard hobby...like, a small backyard hobby. I assumed that the suburbs would not be safe unless there were at least several open acres around the hive. This is delightfully untrue! I have seen tiny city lots in subdivisions house several hives.

  3. A hive can produce 60+ pounds of honey per year (about 5 gallons)!

  4. A hive can number 60,000+ bees during the summer. These bees live within 5 cubic feet, which is about 1/4 the size of your refrigerator.

  5. Honeybees are incredibly clean. They remove dirt, pests, debris when they are able, and sting to death, disinfect and mummify anything they cannot move, like an intruding mouse. Can you imagine 60,000 insects living in less than 5 cubic feet? Living in such close proximity requires sterile conditions for health.

  6. Although estimates vary, there is evidence that Honeybees will fly up to 6 miles in search of food.

  7. Honeybees maintain a core temperature of their hive at about 94 degrees. On the hot days of summer when outside temperatures exceed 94 degrees, the wax becomes so soft that it can begin to fall apart. The solution? Worker bees position on the inside and outside of the hive and beat their wings non-stop, fanning the hive and reducing the humidity and interior temperature of the hive.