It has been about a year since I last updated on our homestead. And what a year it has been! We've continued to experiment with all things homestead and have found a new joy with our flock of feathers! The chicks in the previous post are well grown and of the 21 that we started with, we have 5 left. Quite a learning curve, our main teacher being the fox/weasel/monster that got into our coop last June. That really decreased our flock. A couple nasty roosters have become dinner and here we are! Our chickens are heritage birds so they have an array of colourful feathers and personalities! A heritage bird is a bird who's genetic line can be traced back multiple generations, sometimes even prior to the mid 20th century! They are great egg layers and have what is termed as a "slow growth rate" so that they can develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs before they develop muscle mass. Personally, I would call this a "normal" growth rate compared to how some breeds have been sped up to become broiler birds (the ones we eat).
As you can see in the photos above our outdoor area does not have a roof of any kind. Our chickens and roosters are free to roam and fly out whenever they like, the brave ones will hop the fence when they're feeling adventurous. Sometimes, on a beautiful summer evening, we open the gate for them to roam together as a flock. So our birds are free range by choice, their choice. We tuck them in each night and do a beak count to make sure we have everyone back safe and sound. The grass and dandelions have been flourishing! These are the reason for your golden yellow yolks, of which our girls are definitely producing at this stage of the season!
We do not treat our chickens with any antibiotic feed and so they are organic eggs! We instead keep up their health by putting a nice mix of garlic, turmeric, oregano, cayenne pepper and good ol' diatomaceous earth into their feed. We feed them a balance egg layer ration pellet and they get our household food scraps every morning. We like to know what is going into our chickens and therefore our eggs.
We've just added some ginger hens to our coop and have some Silkie chicks growing up rapidly in our basement (seen in the second picture above). With more to arrive this summer!
Big Hill Homestead is a family run operation and as soon as you can walk, you can work! Our two year old daughter is in charge of the egg farming, selling and is the leader of the hens! She collects the eggs every morning, feeds them scraps and watches over the chicks as they grow. The hens love her and follow her around the yard hoping she will drop them a few more morsels of bread. This has been a great joy for her and us as it has given her something to do each day as we have been in pandemic isolation.
YES! We are selling free range, homestead fresh, organic eggs!
Please do get in touch with us via email or phone to order a dozen!
They are selling for $10/dozen.
THANK YOU for another big year at Big Hill Homestead! We (unfortunately and fortunately) sold out of our honey right before Christmas! We apologize for this lack of stock, and are struggling with you, in that, we do not have any honey for ourselves either! But as they say "Good things come to those who wait!" So here's to having some honey as early as June this year!
In the meantime we have EGG-citing news! We have been very busy building a chicken coup! As with everything we do at Big Hill Homestead, we 'go BIG' so we have more of a Hen Hotel than a coup. Aptly named "The Chicken Wing", we are set to have our first feathery flock in the next couple of weeks. Being new to hens, we would like to get acquainted with the ladies a bit and then will let you know when EGGS will be for sale! If you are interested in our eggs, please send me a quick email or text letting me know and we will let you know personally when the eggs will be available.
As always stay tuned as spring is just around the corner and that's when we like to get buzy here on the homestead!
The image above shows liquid honey on the left from our August honey pull and the one in the middle shows our July honey pull both have been kept in our house at room temperature. The one of the right is from the July pull but has been kept in the garage for tastings and has dealt with heat waves to cold evening temperature changes. But all are still soft to scoop out!
Why is my honey getting harder or turning into crystals? Why has my honey changed colour?
This is natural process called crystallization. When honey crystallizes, that means it is pure honey that has not been heated or changed in any way and that nothing has been added into the honey. It tells you that you are eating 100% pure, raw, unpasteurized honey. This is the best kind of honey to eat as it has lots of health benefits!
Honey crystallizes because it is made up of a mix of the sugars called fructose and glucose. It has more than 70% of sugars and less than 20% water. This means that there isn’t enough water in honey to naturally dissolve the sugars and keep it in a liquid state. The glucose naturally separates from the water and then turns into small crystals. The fructose does not crystallize and instead remains liquid around the glucose crystals. Crystallization is natural and means you have honey right out of a bee hive!
At Big Hill Homestead we find that when our honey crystallizes faster as it is unfiltered. This means that particles of beeswax, propolis and pollen are in our honey. These particles also increase the speed of crystallization but are the reason for much of the health benefits as well. Our honey tends to make quite small crystals but is still spreadable, however, this is only if you take care of your honey.
How to take care of your honey:
How to get crystallized honey back to a liquid state:
Our girls have been very busy and we are excited to announce that honey is ready!!! The taste is surreal this year. Can it get any sweeter? Perhaps this year it has! We have a new Big Hill Homestead label this year. It represents the Big Hill skies that change and flow overhead each day. Whether its a sunset over the mountains, a cloudy storm sailing through, the northern lights or clear blue skies we are in awe every time we look up. The blue skies on our label is a picture that I took of our Big Hill skies! Why don't you come on out and see the sky for yourself or just come to talk bees with us? Go to the Products page for more information on our tours. We would love to have you for a visit to see what's happening on our homestead!
We are happy to announce the first batch of mead is ready!! We have been tasting and trialing, changing and savouring our first batch. Mead making is like any homemade recipe, there is plenty of tweaking to be done and we need to continue down this road until it's just right (by Goldilocks standards) before we go any further with it. But we are happy to announce that things are brewing at Big Hill Homestead!
Towards the end of June my Dad found a swarm of bees covering the inside and outside of a saw horse just in front of our hives. We found out that they had created some supersede Queen cells and while two hatched (rarely will two survive as they usually have a royal war to the death and the prevailing Queen wins her reign!) two seemed to survive. On this rare occasion, a second queen may have hatched at just the right time and smelled the first Queen thinking "Yikes I gotta get outta here cause there's another Queen in here!" She then left the hive with a large group of bees. This is what we suspect happened to our hive as both hives now have working Queens. But of course we are still beginner beekeepers, so it's our best guess.
A note about swarms, bees are very docile when in a swarm and the Queen is being guarded in the centre of it. They are docile because they are trying to conserve energy as they have left all of their honey reserves and have full bellies for the journey. Consider it like a family meeting where some bees fly away in search of a new home and return to report their findings. Once a bee finds a new home they will let the rest of the swarm know and away they will all fly. A swarm can stay anywhere from 40 minutes to 4 hours to overnight etc. It is hard to predict as we don't speak buzz.
When you spot a swarm, please contact the Calgary Beekeeping Association (http://www.calgarybeekeepers.com/swarmcatchers.html) as our association has a swarm catcher group that will happily come out and take your swarm away. It means they get a new hive of honey producers!
Luckily my Dad saw ours before they flew away! So my husband and I went out and swept them into pots and dumped them back in the box that you see in the photo. Unfortunately, I only took photos after we had already put about 3/4 of the bees back in the box. Once you get the Queen in the box, the rest of the bees will follow. You can see them walking in a line towards the box in this photo. Long live the Queen!
Finally the dandelions have bloomed! With the sun shining today, our girls are out to get some nectar! This excited honey bee looks like she's doing the splits on the flower, holding on as she sucks up some nectar in her tongue. Did you know that a bee's tongue is a tube? They use it like a straw to suck up the nectar from a flower. Then the nectar goes into their 'honey' stomach and mixes with a magical enzyme that starts the process of turning it into honey. When they get back to the hive, they place it up into one of the cells. Now it's time for them to fan their wings to get the perfect temperature in the hive. The honey will start to lose moisture and become more sticky. Once it's just right they cover the cell with a cap of beeswax. Kinda like we preserve foods by sealing them in a jar.
Look how hungry she is! She's got her whole face buried into the dandelion. Please rethink weeding your dandelions as they are the first and only food source after the snow melts away. While beekeepers can feed their bees, other wild pollinators are reliant on this food source as well. Please Bee Kind!
Our bees have successfully made it through a very long and harshly cold winter yet again! The good news is that we will have some honey sooner than last year! Ciarán went into the hives mid March to check on them and to give them some well deserved food.
Many people ask how we help them through the winter. Honeybees are not native to Canada and so they need a little extra warmth over the winter months as they adapt. Here you can see that we wrap four hives together on a slab with black insulation, made specially for bee hives. Ciarán is checking to see how the bees survived the winter and is feeding them fondant sugar and pollen patties to get through the last month of cold weather.
Look at the hives behind my husband. One has a pile of dead bees outside of the entrance. This is thanks to the worker bees who have cleaned out the dead from the bottom of the hive. In the winter they carry the dead bees to the bottom of the hive and leave them there until it is warm enough to carry them out. We all have our way of spring cleaning and bees are very clean by nature.
We were delighted as well to open the hives late April to discover that the bees ate little of our pollen patties and fondant as they still had honey reserves from the fall! This could be a good thing, but it could also mean that a lot of the population died off and so not as much food was eaten. In a few hives this was true and we've combined them to help them off to a good start this season. Now we are in the full swing of things and bees are hungry for sugar syrup! So we feed weekly until the dandelions pop up!
Ciarán has built a water fountain in front of our garage so the bees have something to drink. They rely heavily on any pools of water that they can find to hydrate. You may come across some dead bees in bird baths or dog water dishes, these are the sad few that fell in. Bees are not to fear near these water pools as they are busy trying to get a drink, usually on a hot day. In fact we fill up the fountain daily while they buzz around us without any beekeeper gear on. They wouldn't bite the hands that serve them, naturally. ;)
Can you spot the bees in the fountain picture below?
We’ve had a very successful honey season here at Big Hill Homestead! Thank you to everyone who supported our homestead and our bees. We couldn’t have BEEn happier with our honey this year. Our bee hives are wrapped and wintering well thus far. Looking ahead to the 2018 season we hope to continue to provide raw unfiltered honey, beeswax products as well as our new adventure... MEAD! Ciarán got a birthday gift that should help us begin the deliciously sweet fermentation process that becomes mead. Wish us luck!