How I Got Started

I started Butterfly gardening many years ago. My yard has been a progression over the years, and has made many transformations. Twenty years ago I experienced Hurricane Andrew. My yard and house were destroyed. We decided not to replace the pool screening and open up the backyard and put in some landscaping. That was the official beginning of my love for gardening in South Florida. I added a beautiful water garden years ago, and have been adding host and larvae plants for pollinators, mostly for the butterfly, for as many years as I can remember. I had my yard certified as a Natural Habitat, through the National Wildlife Foundation. To have a natural habitat you need to provide and meet certain requirements: 1. Provide a food source, 2. Provide a water source, 3. Cover, 4. A place to raise young. I try not to use any pesticides in my yard. I vermicompost and recycle as many of my food scraps as possible. If I had more land I would have a huge compost bin to recycle all my yard cuttings. Basically, I try to lessen my carbon footprint on this earth. In my own little world or backyard I try to provide an ecosystem in my water garden, provide birdbaths, birdfeeders, hummingbird nectar sources, feeders, puddling areas, host plants and nectar plants for butterflies and other pollinators. I am hoping to raise everyone’s awareness of the importance of saving our Butterflies, Blooms & Bees. Without them our world and food source will be in trouble. I hope you all enjoy my journey. I am not a Master Gardener, or Master Beekeeper, an Entomologist, or Journalists. I am simply a Backyard Gardener who is trying to lessen her Carbon Footprint of this Earth.

I hope you enjoy my blogs.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Welcome Fall

Fall is officially here as of Sunday September 22, at 4:44 EST. Although it is 91 degrees outside I have to say that the shadows are getting longer. I am so looking forward to our first cool front. Fall is the one season I really miss from living up north. I miss the leaves changing, and the cool fresh air, harvesting apples, and apple cider, apple cider donuts, trick or treating in cool weather. Oh well…. Maybe someday I’ll move back up north, and when it gets too cold come back down to Miami to my winter home. I would combine the best of both worlds. One can only dream!

For the autumn season I thought that I would make soap with a seasonal scent. What reminds you more about the fall than pumpkin? So I followed a recipe on the soap making website I am calling this soap Pumpkin Spiced Latte. It smells just like a pumpkin spiced pie, or a Pumpkin Latte from Starbucks. Delicious!

In honor of celebrating the beginning of Fall I added 3 oz of real pumpkin to the recipe. I did my first swirl. Tonight I cut the soap and it looks pretty good, and smells great. I want to try to make a pumpkin soap that includes my pumpkin ale that I made. I bet you didn’t know that you could make soap with beer did you? Well you can, and you can also use wine, and teas, and milks. So I opened two bottles of my Pumpkin ale and I am letting them sit until the carbonation is gone and the beer is flat. The key to working with alcohol is to make sure the beer or wine is flat and then to boil the alcohol out of the beer. I will also freeze mine so when I mix it with the lye it will have less of a chance of creating a lye volcano. Many people when they start to soap are concerned about working with lye. I am concerned, but I guess because I have a scientific mind I respect the lye, and take the necessary precautions to work safely. I will keep you posted on how my pumpkin ale beer turns out. Yesterday I went to Total Wine to look for some local beer from the state of Florida. I specifically was looking for Michael’s Genuine beer. I found that it is only available on tap, and in certain restaurants. I did find a very interesting Toasted Coconut Porter, brewed by the Thomas Creek Brewery, in Orlando, Florida. I eventually would love to create some soap using some of the beer and wine from our local breweries. I would also love to create a soap using my own mead!

I made a Goat’s milk soap this weekend that is unscented. It is just plain goat’s milk soap. I added just a little of my honey, and a little colloidal oatmeal. This is the perfect bar for those that want the benefit of goat’s milk without the fragrance. It is perfect to use with the fall weather approaching. It is nice to use a soap that will protect the skin during the winter months, with the natural fats from the goat’s milk, and the humectant properties of the honey. I put some moisturizing Shea butter in this recipe also. I made a calendula lip balm to protect your lips from the harsh weather. Calendula is a beautiful flower, better known as the Pot Marigold, which has healing properties and is great for the skin. I flavored this lip balm with just the perfect amount of orange and grapefruit essential oils.

I signed up for a class through Brambleberry. Ann Marie Faiola, founder and owner of Bramble Berry, just completed writing a new book “Soap Crafting.” She has been soaping for many years and besides being very talented and creative in her artisan soap techniques, she is also a very smart business woman. She started a soap crafting club where the participants join on a quarterly basis, and she teaches you different techniques from her book. Each quarter several soap techniques are covered and by joining you receive her expertise and all the ingredients to make one of the soaps covered. I have signed up for the first 2 quarters. I hope that the year doesn’t sell out before I have the extra money to sign up for the rest of the classes. I love her book, and have plans to try many of her recipes. I would like to get creative and design my own recipes, but I am not at that point yet. I have so many recipes in my head using the herbs, plants, flowers, beer, and wine that I make from my yard.

Happy Fall Everyone! Hope you enjoy my new products, and that you find them comforting for the cooler weather to come. Now I need to concentrate on getting my garden together for our lovely South Florida winter. I hope to use many of my herbs in the soaps I create over the next few months.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Top Bar Hive Beekeeping

My hives are doing quite well. The bees are busy doing what bees should do. I wish they were making a little more honey right now but they are still in the expansion mode for the summer. There is some nice honey but it is mixed with different phases of brood, i.e. eggs, larvae, and capped brood. One of the downsides to TBH beekeeping is that there is no way to exclude the queen from laying eggs wherever she wants or needs to. Most langstroth beekeepers use something called a queen excluder to keep the queen in the brood nest and not allow her to travel up to the “supers” or honey area. The worker bees are able to only make honey in the honey area or supers. The queen is excluded to just the brood area. There are also some langstroth beekeepers that don’t believe in a queen excluder and keep the brood nest open and allow the queen to lay where she needs too.

One important fact of life that I have learned is that patience is a virtue. I have learned this to be true in many aspects of life! Although we live in a society that wants and needs instant gratification something’s are worth waiting for. Like honey! You can’t rush “Mother Nature”. In a few weeks I will have some beautiful honey, but right now the bees are using it to feed the brood nest. I still consider every drop to be a gift.

I saw a great picture on Facebook the other day. I saved it to my photo stream, because I thought it was a great explanation, in diagram form, to show you exactly what TBH beekeeping looks like. I am so glad that I practice TBH beekeeping. I think it is a more natural way to keep bees. I have talked about this several times. I hope from this picture you have a better understanding of what TBH beekeeping is all about.

My hives are strong and the bees are happy, but still more aggressive than I would like them to be. I need to decide what I am going to do about requeening them. I almost got through all 5 hives on Sunday without a sting. The bees are pretty aggressive and try to sting me through the suit. There was a stinger that was still stuck on the sleeve of my bee suit and it managed to sting me without the bee attached. After a honey bee stings its stinger continues to pulsate and release venom. I did not have much of a reaction. Thank goodness for my allergy shots, they seem to be working. After I finished working the hives a few bees followed me back to the house, before I enter I get the “All Clear” from my husband. He makes sure there are no bees following me inside. I had to go back outside for a second, and as soon as I opened the back door a random bee dive bombed my head and tried to sting me. It took me a few minutes to get the determined bee out of my hair. Why do my bees hate me?? I am really starting to get a complex! I am sure it was quite the scene to see me trying to get the bee out of my hair before she stung me. I had to go inside to the bathroom mirror to find her. Poor girl unfortunately she succumbed to her death after attempting to sting me.

Since I am starting to sell my honey I just wanted to highlight some of the benefits and properties of honey, and the importance of buying and supporting beekeepers. Here is a very interesting article on honey. I had a friend ask me recently how long honey will last, and does my honey taste differently than the honey in the grocery store. I am attaching a good article from “We come from the Future” “Why Honey is the only food that doesn’t go bad.” The article explains that honey is magic and has some pretty incredible properties. I am not sure that honey is magic; I think the bees are the ones performing the magic. I hope you find the article interesting. It gives a pretty good explanation of how the bees make honey. The oldest honey ever found dates back over 5,000 years. It has been said that honey was found in one of the Egyptian tombs and was still good. Why do you think that is… read the article and find out?

I am also attaching an article about how most honey from the grocery store is not actually honey. All the properties and benefits have been processed out of the honey. After you read this article you will never want to eat store bought honey again. My honey is a beautiful dark amber color and has a very strong taste. I have had the opportunity to taste honey from different parts of the country and they are amazingly different. Some are so light in color and others are very dark like molasses. I often go to “Robert is Here”, a fruit stand here in Homestead, Florida. His fruit stand was established in 1959. He has different honeys from all different plants grown in Florida and they all taste completely different from each other. I can tell you after having real honey what we get at the grocery store is not honey. Support your farmers and beekeepers, and buy local.

Here are a couple of pictures of bees and honey that I really like. I collect different pictures that I save to use as my labels for my Mead. Love these!

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