Monday, October 27, 2014

Inside the magic honey house

My grandsons love the Magic School Bus books. One of their favorites is The Magic School Bus inside a Beehive by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen. The boys have watched Dave inspect the hive and of course tasted our honey, but have never seen what happens to the honey after the bees cap the little comb cells once they are filled with honey. This post is for Kieran and Jasper.
Boys all dressed up and ready to harvest honey...
Friend Steve and Grandpa Dave working in the honey house (really, we don't have a honey house, we just work in our house). The beehive boxes are stacked in the dining room. We put newspaper down to keep floors and tables from getting too sticky.
Each box of a bee hive has nine or ten frames in it, all filled with honey. We use a hot knife to slice the wax caps off the honey comb so the honey can run out.
Each frame of honeycomb has its own space in the extractor. When we have 12 frames in the machine we turn it on. The frames spin round and round for five to ten minutes. Honey flies out of the comb, hits the wall of the extractor and drains to the bottom of the machine.

When the extractor has spun all the honey out of the frames, three people lift the extractor onto the counter and then drain the honey out of the bottom.

We have to strain the honey because their are pieces of wax (the cappings) floating in it. It is so beautiful falling into the strainer that we just have to taste it at this stage. This year the honey was really sticky so Kanita helped push it through the strainers.
When all the honey is extracted from the honeycomb and strained, we bottle it to save for the rest of the year. Grandpa uses our honey when he makes bread and granola. Grandma uses it on toast and pancakes. And of course, we always have some for our grandsons.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Northcroft Sweater

                                                                                    photo by Katy Olson

I can follow a pattern and knit a sweater. I can alter a pattern from straight needles to circular needles, but I can't create a pattern that fits the human body well. However, my young friend Cedar Walters is a genius at pattern design. She doesn't like sewing seams at the end of a knitting project so she has figured out how to create beautiful fitted sweaters with a minimum of finish work.

In exchange for five skeins of Northcroft yarn and my endless gratitude, Cedar designed the Northcroft Sweater, a beautifully simple pattern that knits rapidly, fits well, looks extraordinary and uses the five colors of yarn that my sheep naturally produce - frost white, silver gray, charcoal, chai and coffee. And as an added bonus, the sweater needs no finishing work.

Other knitters rapidly picked up the pattern. One used it with her own handspun yarn. Another dyed the Northcroft yarns in a single dye bath to get a wonderful gradation of a single color. A third  knitter loved the mock cable design and fit of the pattern and is knitting the sweater in a single color of Northcroft yarn.

Cedar blogs at You can also get the Northcroft Sweater pattern, and the Northcroft yarns, or a Northcroft Sweater kit at the Northcroft Store on this blog. If you're driving through Pelican Rapids, MN, the Mercantile on Main is the only physical store that has an exclusive right to sell our yarns and Cedar's patterns.

The Northcroft Sweater illustrates the skill of a talented designer and beauty of our natural yarns. It also shows me that all those cold nights in the barn during lambing, the hot sweaty days baling hay and the work we put into having beautiful, clean fleeces, have really paid off.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Solar power

Last fall, Lake Region Electric, our local energy cooperative, offered an opportunity for members to buy shares of photovoltaic collectors that would be located onsite at the Cooperative offices. This was a perfect opportunity for people without good solar access to invest in solar power. I was intrigued.
Dave and I started figuring out how much more solar power we would need to be completely  powered by the sun and the wind. We had several sites on our farm with good solar access. We decided that with the incentives available to us as individuals, it made more sense for us to invest in our own solar photovoltaic system and leave the Lake Region system investments for people who didn't have a good site for solar power.

We contacted several solar power companies and All Energy Solar responded immediately, answering all our questions and some that we hadn't thought to ask. They designed a system for us, contacted Lake Region Electric Cooperative to make sure that the connection would be compatible with their system.

This summer, in just under a week, two young men installed 32 solar panels down by our bee hives at the end of the orchard. The panels glisten in the sun, reflecting the blues of the sky. They connect to a cable that carries the electricity to our power pole. When the sun shines on the panels, the solar cells make electricity which we use in the house. If the cells produce more than we need, Lake Region Electric buys the surplus from us.When the sun doesn't shine, we depend on our wind generator or buy electricity from Lake Region Electric.

Our investment in the photovoltaic panels is well over $20,000, but with tax credits and depreciation, they should pay for themselves in 8 years, a much better return than any of our other investments and they will help slow global warming too.

 Dave has figured that each year our wind generator produces 16 kwhr of power and prevents the emission of about ten tons of carbon dioxide. Our solar water heater heats about 2/3 of our hot water and as long as I wash clothes and fleeces when the sun shines, it also reduces our carbon pollution by  12%. Our prairies sequester another 33 tons of carbon. If we heat our home with sustainably harvested wood, we avoid another ten tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

We aren't carbon neutral yet, but with the help of our photovoltaic system and the sun
we are a bit closer.