Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Mason bees

Mason bees are one of the 40,000+ native species of bees in North America.  Their specialty is early spring pollination, especially of fruit trees, which gives them their other name- Orchard bee.  They are small, blue-black in color and rarely sting.  Mason bees are "solitary bees," so while they nest near one another, they do not form colonies and therefor have little to defend.

These and other native bees will gladly nest in tree cavities, but they are also attracted by mason bee houses that consist of deep holes 5/16th inches in diameter.  Katherine and I lined the holes with parchment paper so that the bee cocoons can be removed and stored in the refrigerator over the winter.  

I suppose a patient person would just put out the houses and wait for the bees to find them, but that is not one of my traits.  I ordered 20 cocoons from Oregon, some of which broke dormancy during shipping, and put the rest in the crisper drawer until today!

Katherine showed no fear with our new neighbors.

I mounted the two bee houses in the shelter of the chicken house roof near the orchard.

Here is the first bee to emerge from the box of cocoons!  We have warm weather, flowering trees, and shelter so the rest is up to them. Good luck guys!

Last year's calves

Abby (front) and Asher, growing up.

Butter trials

This winter I visited the new natural foods store in Lawrence and found Super-Natural grass-fed dairy cream.  Katherine and I put it to the test by making butter (on right) and comparing it to butter made from standard store cream (circle on left) and a pat of store butter (square).  For color and flavor, the grass-fed cream made a far better product.  The yellow color corresponds to the amount of beta carotene (vitamin A).

In late February, after my first calf arrived, I milked out a half-gallon of our own Bluestem milk to see how it compared to the store-bought grass-fed cream.  The Super-Natural cream made the butter on the right, and the small bowl on the left contains Bluestem butter.  Ours was a little more yellow-orange than pasteurized cream, but the difference was not nearly so stark as between the grass-fed and standard store cream butters. 

So, if you don't have a cow of your own, I'd suggest the grass-fed cream/milk/butter.  It may just be worth the money!


I'm not always good about sharing my mistakes, but this one was pretty public in my neighborhood so here you have it! 

In February, I was so excited from talking to a woman at a grazing conference about patch burning, I thought, "I know it's been a little dry (deep drought) but I'll just try this one little match..."

 30 acres and a visit from my friendly neighborhood fire department later...

... and no more grass.

It probably serves me right since I've been getting cocky about my spring burning.  In the end, with the diligent intervention of our (free) township fire department, nothing burned but grass.  It could have been much, much worse with several neighborhood houses and barns in the path.  Thanks guys!