Tag Archives: urban homesteading

A very simple DIY wax melter

Those of you who keep bees on natural comb and like to harvest the wax as well, as well as do it yourself on the cheap, here is a super simple, practically free solar wax melter.  It works anytime the temps are above 75 degrees or so.


cardboard box

piece of recycled glass or old single pane window

large yogurt container (or two or three, depending on the size of your box)





wax cappings and comb from honey harvest or other beekeeping activities

Take the box, line it with tinfoil.  Fill the yogurt container halfway with tap water, and top with a piece of cheesecloth.   Tie the cheesecloth on with a piece of string (rubber band work too, but the heat will degrade them in a day or two) and make an indentation in the middle of the cheesecloth top with your hand.  Pile wax cappings and bits as high as you dare, place in the box.  Place glass on top and leave in a sunny location.  It helps to prop up the box on one side to tilt it slightly towards the sun.  As the wax melts and filters through the cheesecloth, you can add more.  Every day or two remove the filtered wax that is floating on the water in the yogurt container and repeat the process until you are out of wax.  Works great, even in cloudy W. Oregon!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMake sure you have rinsed all of the honey out of your cappings and comb first (you can strain this and use the honey flavored water for making lemonade….delicious!).  And don’t use brood comb-it doesn’t work well, it has too little wax left in it (use that for fire starter when you go camping, it is awesome!  Or put it in your compost).  I use my wax to make hand dipped candles and lip balm.

The blackberry is just beginning to bloom around here, that is the main honeyflow in our area!  Summer is just around the corner….



Smiles everyone! Smiles.

So, closing has been pushed back again…to early June.  We are keeping our chins up.  It is spring, the weather is lovely, and everything is in bloom.  Good time of year to be a bee.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe first peace rose of the summer, in full technicolor glory.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fourth or fifth peony…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERApurple podded pea with pollinator (or possibly perpetrator, I will have to look this bug up).  This is such a fabulous plant, I can’t say enough good things about it.  You can get them from Adaptive seeds, the variety is called Sugar Magnolia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASugar Ann peas (these were eaten moments later).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa native pollinator checking out the chives…


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis look is uniquely Katydid:  a combination of “I am really sorry I dug this hole but it is for my ball please don’t take it away and have I mentioned how tasty this dirt is?  Love you!”

So it is hard to be down in the mouth with all these good things happening right here in our tiny urban backyard.  Oh yes, and then there is this:

under saddleOsprey was backed for the first time today!  I go see her again tomorrow.  I tried out some used dressage saddles this week, so I at least have some idea of what fits and why.  Folks always say buying the horse is the cheap part, and they aren’t kidding!  But she is worth every hard won penny….and Rachel is doing a fantastic job with her.

Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone!  I will be selling wine at Big Table Farm on Sunday, if you are in the area tasting wines this weekend come by!


The start sale was a roaring success, I came very close to hitting my sales target (which I honestly had no expectation of actually doing), and I feel like I have gotten a huge vote of confidence and a boost of energy to get this venture launched.  Riding that wave I went ahead and registered my business name with the Oregon Secretary of State, and opened my business bank account.  Whoohoo!  A few things I learned, that I probably already knew:  people love tomatoes.  My tomato table was wiped out except for a few green zebras in the first hour or so.  The greens moved well too, and I had a lot of them.  I have a lot of collards and kales left over, but rabbits and chickens love to eat those and so do I, so I am stuffing my city garden with greens of all descriptions and I will just cut and come again on those as long as I can. People like peppers, but mostly prefer sweets to hot.  I wish I had had more Padrons and more Beaverdam peppers…and I’d love to get my paws on some Gernika pepper seed. I think I have the best looking garden I have ever had, and we have been eating asparagus almost every day.  Delish!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also caught one of the nicest swarms ever last Friday….I am feeling particularly blessed as I broke even on bees this winter:  I lost one hive to Nosema, but was able to split a second hive into two in mid April.  The split seems to be doing well, I saw today several queen cells that had hatched open, I gave that colony a frame of brood, eggs and bees just to give them some extra juice (and a back up option if the new queen fails for some reason) from their super strong original hive.  The warre looks to be busting at the seams, I expect a swarm from that hive in the next week or two when the weather warms up again (though I don’t expect to catch it!  Those tend to be some high flying bees).  The local word is that Portland hives were decimated over the winter, maybe as bad as 50-75% losses according to some.  So as I said, I am feeling really lucky that my bees are for the most part doing well.  Hopefully we can get them moved to the farm before the main honey flow begins!  I was hoping to have 5 hives this season, but four is pretty good, and swarm season isn’t over yet.  Best to build up slowly anyway, I will have plenty to keep track of as it is!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also had a new batch of kits born on Monday, haven’t gotten a good count yet but they seem feisty!  Osprey continues to make great progress….still hasn’t been ridden but now walks easily over a ‘bridge’, and has been trailered to a local arena.  I go see her again tomorrow.  Next week Rachel takes her other mustang to a competition, and he will be auctioned off at the end.  If you live in California and are looking for a really nice horse with a great foundation and a sweet temperament, you should check out Rachel and Titan at the Norco Extreme Mustang Makeover Trail competition.  I will be so sorry to see him go, and really hope he finds a good home with someone who will appreciate him.  He is built like an old school cavalry horse, and I think would look really good going english.  And he jumps 3 feet!   Scroll down this page and you will see a black and white image of a civil war era horse that looks a lot like Titan….(minus the crooked forelegs, Titan is actually very nicely put together).

Springing into May…

In spite of my lack of farm, I am having a garden start sale this weekend, to get the ball rolling, to do a little marketing, and recoup some of my seed costs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you live in Portland and want the details, check out the Long Run Farm website for more information.  Look under the weekly post page.

In other news, Osprey the mustang passed her TIP criteria, and the adoption process is underway!  She is doing beautifully.  She is not under saddle yet, but she does accept one without very much fuss.  She also tolerates flags, although plastic bags on sticks are still suspect.  I bought my first ton of hay from a friend, and scored some cheap horse accoutrements (brushes, fly masks, rubber buckets) at the Small Farmers Journal Auction last week.  Boy was that fun!  Lots of weird old equipment, piles and piles of harness (literally), charismatic old farmers galore, and cute young farm boys prancing around in chaps and dusters that were up for auction.  Met some amazing horse farmers and teamsters, and learned a lot about equipment, harness, and auctions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe final major paperwork is through the county, we could actually be within a couple of weeks of closing….I’ll believe it when I am writing the check, but keep thinking your good thoughts!

Bees are well, I made a split of my big hive, and looked at the split today:  saw a few queen cells, the bees are starting to thin down the ends, so the ladies should be hatching right in the middle of the lovely weather we are having.  Perfect.  I also got my first sting of the season today, a sure sign of warm weather.  We have been making the most of this waiting period, my husband and I have both landed two spring Chinook so far.  Which reminds me, I’m off to pick some asparagus for smoked salmon pizza…..cheers!




First Fish

Since we aren’t moving until sometime in May, we have some time to do other things….a batch of fine weather and a little time spent fishing, and my husband landed his first Chinook of 2014.  He will be in a good mood now for at least a week, and then, the fever will set back in.  Ah, salmon:  the tug is the drug, and the best cure for the disease of salmon fever is also it’s cause.  Hmmm, wonder what’s for dinner?

Happy Spring!


March Fourth, Set Back

So….our closing date has been pushed back.  To May.  We are rolling with the punches.  I have called off the CSA and cancelled my slot at the farmers market for now, and will reboot once I have the house key in my  hand.  In the meantime, my husband has built me a fabulous germination station!  This one runs on a space heater hooked up to a thermostat which keeps it at 74 degrees, but will eventually be modified to a bucket heater and a trough of water as the heat source.  It works very well.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe doors are rodent proof, and pop off for access.  The shelves are too close together, we will remove every other shelf unit.  And add an automatic vent system eventually.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are Redwing onion starts.  I started my onions before we got the news that the survey would take so long….I have a lot of onion starts!

So, I have an unexpected vacation of sorts.  More packing, more sorting, more winnowing of the stuff.  I am growing a bunch of starts for anyone who wants them, hopefully I can at least make a little income this spring, instead of laying around the house eating popcorn and watching Netflix movies.

Speaking of popcorn, I grew Dakota Black again last year.  Love this popcorn, the ears are a gorgeous deep black red.  And the popcorn is delicious.  Thanks to Anthony Boutard’s book Beautiful Corn  I can now get the corn to the perfect moisture content.  No grannies!  Here’s how you do it:  I take a 1/4 square of paper towel, and soak it in a saturated solution of salt and water (add salt to water until no more will dissolve).  Wring it out until damp, place in a pint jar with your popcorn kernels, and let equalize for a few days.  The paper towel will end up feeling dry, but your corn will pop perfectly.


A spring in our step

A few signs of spring, and the beginning of the growing season:

Here is our newest doe Cookie, daughter of Snacks:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here are a few of her babies, all black and brown:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn spite of my lack of farm, I have started my onions at least.  I think these are Red Long of Tropea….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI built a couple of 24″x48″ heat mats out of 1×2, plywood and incandescent rope christmas lights.  Economical (about a third of the cost of similar sized heat mats).  For seed starting in the basement they work great, in my tiny drafty greenhouse they need a little supplemental insulation or cover (I use plastic draped over the table) to stay warm in weather like we are having today (39 degrees and rainy).  Here is a link on how to build them (one edit:  I’d cut the 1×2’s to 44″, not 40″).  The downside of these is monitoring, they are not on any kind of thermostat, so the ones in the greenhouse will have to be monitored on warm sunny days.  Or I can put them on a timer once things start to warm up.

Unlike today, yesterday was beautiful, and the bees were flying.  I lost one hive this winter, but the other two look good!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the warre colony, they are on year 4!  But I shouldn’t speak too soon, we are not out of the woods yet.  I never really relax in spring until the maples bloom, but so far everyone has plenty of stores.

Hope your bees and seeds and babies are doing well!