Animals Farm & Garden Large Animals

Coccidiosis Is A Deadly Sheep Parasite, Too

Recently I had the chance to pick the brain of a sheep producer who has raised sheep for more than 50 years. You know the saying, “He’ll forget more than I’ll ever know?” That’s him!

At any rate, I asked him what he saw as the biggest threat to sheeps’ health in addition to worms … which we all know and talk about.

He thought for a minute, and then said, “Well, parasites really are the biggest problem. I guess in addition to worms, there’s coccidiosis. That can be pretty bad for the sheep.”

Coccidiosis in Sheep?

I’m no stranger to the plague of coccidiosis, but had only encountered it in chickens. In chickens, it’s a terrible, fast-spreading and quick-killing disease. I’ve lost a few chicks in rapid succession once I noticed the bloody diarrhea—a sign the infection has spread to a dangerous degree.

Interestingly, the coccidia that affect poultry are not the same ones that infect sheep. It turns out there are many different kinds of coccidia. And different ones affect different animals.

What Is Coccidia?

What is coccidia? Well, it’s a single-cell protozoa that causes damage to the sheep’s intestinal system. Once one of your flock has this, the egg-shaped coccidia comes out in the animal’s feces. Like worms, the coccidia can be picked up by an animal eating off the ground where feces are present.

An adult can actually have coccidia in their intestines and not show symptoms. But, according to a ruminant specialist from the University of Maryland, lambs up to age six months are the most susceptible.

Read more: When you buy sheep, make sure the seller provides these documents.

Signs of Coccidiosis

One sign of coccidiosis in sheep: dark diarrhea, possibly containing blood or mucous. You might see a very dirty back end and tail on the young ones. Your lamb may be weak or not eat as well.

Experts often note that weaning is a particularly stressful time for lambs. They also may be more susceptible to diseases like coccidiosis during that time.

So if you see signs of some serious diarrhea in your lambs, it’s time to act–and fast. You can buy over-the-counter meds used to treat coccidiosis. But according to the Maryland ruminant specialist, they may not be approved for use in sheep.

So my advice? Call your vet! There are also other drugs that require a vet’s prescription that are very effective against coccidiosis.

The Best Treatment

The best treatment for coccidiosis in sheep, though, is prevention. By the time you notice your flock is ailing, some of the damage has already been done.

As with chickens, the best rule of thumb is to keep the housing and bedding extremely clean. Don’t feed hay on the ground where there are feces present, as this can spread other types of parasites, as well as coccidia.

Also make sure your feeders are off the ground and that none of the sheep leave feces in there as well.

Another tip? Keep your water tanks clean as well. When the tank gets low, take the time to scrub it out and make sure it’s clean as well.

Read more: Should you feed your sheep kelp meal?

Nutrition, Stress

Good nutrition goes a long way toward helping your flock resist parasites of all kinds. Feed the best grain you can (if you feed grain). And make sure hay or pasture is high quality.

Finally, from everything I’ve read, keeping stress down in your flock is essential to keeping them healthy. I know we all have to handle our sheep at some point, especially if you shear and trim hooves or vaccinate. But try to plan out your activities so that you can get the most done at one time.

For example, when we shear, we also check hooves and trim if needed. We’ll give the CDT vaccine at this time, too.

Our lambs are doing well so far. We had our first one in early April and still have a couple more ewes left to give birth. That may delay our weaning of the lambs in the entire flock as well. But we will definitely watch for signs of stress and illness when we do finally separate them.

Animals Farm & Garden Projects

Video: How To Make Your Own Hummingbird Food

On our farm, we’re always trying to look beyond the daily production of our landholding and see our acreage’s potential. I am particularly interested in change the nature of our farm from the traditional hayfield we purchased to add more habitat to promote the wildlife species that could potentially call our farm home.

One of the first native species we spotted here at our Texas farm was the hummingbird.

Now, I just love hummingbirds. They’re fascinating creatures and get their names from the sound their wings make when they beat them. These wings move so fast as they move or hover, they make a humming sound.

So in order to encourage these marvelous little creatures to visit our farm property, we went to town and, like many people, bought a hummingbird feeder. We also bought the traditional hummingbird food, which is purported to simulate the taste of nectar.

The problem? The hummingbirds didn’t like this food we purchased and provided for them. And, as a result, they didn’t visit the hummingbird feeder we put out for them.

Read more: Grow some green bird flower, a different kind of hummingbird plant.

Making My Own Hummingbird Food

I still really wanted these cool little birds to come sup at our homestead, though. So I set out to find a recipe the hummingbirds would enjoy. There are plenty of recipes available on the internet, books and other information resources.

But I I happened to have easy access to a recipe I knew worked, so I called up my dad and asked him what he put in his hummingbird feeder.

It turned out my dad had been given this recipe from someone else years back. Hummingbirds love the food, and it’s both inexpensive and simple to make.

Read more: Check out these 8 cool facts about hummingbirds.


Here’s what you’ll need to make hummingbird food sure to please your hummingbird visitors.

  • 4 parts water
  • 1 part sugar

That’s it! Just mix up the water and sugar, put it in the feeder and watch the hummingbirds dine on your offering.

You may note that this mixture is clear, as opposed to the red stuff you get in the store. All I can figure is the additives that give the commercial feed its color also puts hummingbirds off the taste.

Check out the video above for more tips on how to mix homemade hummingbird feed as well as some fun footage of the little beauties who frequent our farm.

Beginning Farmers Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Homesteading

Grow Mustard, A Must For The Spice Gardener (Book Excerpt)

The following excerpt is from Tasha Greer’s Grow Your Own Spices : Harvest homegrown ginger, turmeric, saffron, wasabi, vanilla, cardamom, and other incredible spices (Cool Springs Press, January 2021) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.

grow spices mustard
Cool Springs Press

Mustard seed is the second-most consumed spice on the planet, behind black peppercorns. Canada and Nepal are the world’s top mustard producers. Despite being 68 times smaller than Canada, Nepal has even held the number one mustard production spot.

Mustard seed oil is a staple of the Nepalese diet. The raw oil is bitter and must be heated until it smokes to add the complex, savory flavor synonymous with Nepalese cooking.

In Nepal, culinary influences come from India, China, Tibet, and elsewhere. Recipes are adapted for use with available local produce and protein sources. As a result, there is a huge variety of regional cuisine styles in such a small country. Yet mustard seed, or its oil, makes it into nearly every meal.

You don’t have to live in the Himalayas to cultivate a love for and an abundant supply of mustard seeds. Plant a handful of seeds into prepared soil in early spring and mustard practically grows itself.

Mustard Types

White or yellow mustard is the variety used for hot dog mustard. It’s mainly grown as a field crop and a cover crop.

Black mustard seeds have hard outer coatings that pop like popcorn when roasted. They have a strong flavor and are used for oil production and seasoning.

Leaf mustard, Brassica juncea, is commonly grown by home gardeners. These plants also produce large quantities of tasty brown seeds that can be used as a substitute for white, yellow, or black mustard seeds. For the home gardener, leaf mustard is most beautiful to grow and provides edible greens too.

Read more: Check out this recipe for funky fermented whole grain mustard!

Mustard Care

Mustard can grow in poor soil, though it’s more pest and disease prone. In compost- rich soil, mustard can tolerate pH ranges from 5.0–8.0. Before planting, add 3 inches (7.5 cm) of compost and incorporate a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer such as feather meal or soybean meal to the soil.

Plant seeds 1/4 inch (6 mm) deep in early spring. Overseed and eat the extra seedlings as baby greens when they are 2 inches (5 cm) tall. Remaining plants need 8–10 inches (20–25 cm) of space.

Aim for 40–60 days of growing time at temperatures between 50–75 degrees F (13–24 degrees C) to limit bolting. When plants begin to flower, they can grow 4–5 feet (1.2–1.5 m) tall.

Mustard can develop a 3-foot (1 m)-long taproot. Grow this spice in prepared ground, in deep raised beds, or in deep containers.


Harvest before the oldest pods feel papery. Cut the seed tops just above the last leaves. Place in a paper bag, or use the candy wrapper method, to finish drying. Thresh and remove the chaff.

Plan on 3–5 tablespoons (45–150 ml) of seeds per plant when it’s planted in good soil.

Spice Profile

  • Names: Brown or Leaf Mustard
  • Latin: Brassica juncea
  • Native to: Cultivated worldwide
  • Edible parts: Entire plant
  • Culinary use: Tangy, similar to horseradish, used in grain mustard

Spice Profile

  • Names: White or Yellow Mustard
  • Latin: Sinapis alba
  • Native to: Morocco, Europe
  • Edible parts: Entire plant
  • Culinary use: Mild taste used for hot dog mustard

Spice Profile

  • Name: Black Mustard
  • Latin: Brassica nigra
  • Native to: North Africa, Europe, Asia
  • Edible parts: Entire plant
  • Culinary use: Strong nutty flavor, seeds are cooked until they pop, also used for oil

Growing Conditions

  • Cool-season crop; optimal seed starting 50–75 degrees F (13–24 degrees C); mature plant tolerance 28–85 degrees F (-2–29 degrees C)
  • Some frost tolerance; susceptible to pests in heat
  • Full sun to part shade; grows in most soil types; pH 5.0–8.0
  • 2–5 days for seed germination; 20–40 days for leaf harvest; 100+ days to seed harvest
  • Self-fertile, cross-pollination

Read more: Add mighty mustard greens to the garden!


Mustard plants make a lot of seeds, so the pods grow heavy. Stake sections of plants upright or just allow room for its natural arching habit when seeding. The profusion of seedpods, in various states of drying, is even more beautiful than mustard flowers.

The young leaves of this Brassica juncea are frilly and beautiful. Plant extra and harvest the young leaves as salad greens. Grow your best seedlings into spice plants.

Medicinal Tip

Mustard is known for its potent volatile oils. When used in powdered mustard seed packs or plasters, these oils create a rubefacient effect on the skin, drawing blood to the area on which the mustard is applied. This circulatory stimulating activity can soothe sore muscles, reduce joint inflammation, and decrease pain as a result. Use caution as mustard can cause irritation when applied topically.

Animals Beekeeping Beginning Farmers Farm & Garden

The Bees Always Come First At On One Acre Farm

“I just love watching the bees,” says Martin Robinson, who oversees the On One Acre farm in Queensland, Australia. “Having 12 hives means there’s always bees on flowers and buzzing to and from the hives.”

Bees are an integral part of On One Acre, but the venture is also about maximizing space and respecting the land. To that end, Robinson has integrated hydroponics to combat the summer heat and extend his growing season.

We spoke to Robinson about his farming roots and how bees can really make a difference to your land. We also got into the benefits of growing baby corn.

Farming in the Genes


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A post shared by Martin Robinson (@on_one_acre)

“I’ve always had an interest in farming, especially growing up on acreage and that’s what my family did,” reflects Robinson, as he looks back on his path to starting On One Acre. “Dad has show poultry and my parents are keen gardeners, so it’s probably in my genes.”

Robinson adds that he became hooked on farming when he was able to secure his own acreage and realized he finds “growing our own food very relaxing.”

Read more: You can plant these garden crops early in the spring.

Maximizing Your Acreage


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When it comes to getting the most out of his plot of land, Robinson says that the summer Queensland heat is a significant challenge, as it limits what he can grow during that season.

“I overcame this by setting up a hydroponic system to be more water wise,” he says. “Now [I’m] able to grow more successfully all year round.”

Bees Make a Difference


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When Robinson decided to add bees to his farm, he began with a single top bar beehive. The intention was to let the bees pollinate the orchard and vegetable garden.

“I found, soon after getting the bees, our yields increased each year,” says Robinson. “That’s when I knew the bees were making a difference.”

Read more: Beekeeper (and TikTok star) Erika Thompson of Texas Beeworks is all about the bees.

The Bees Come First


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If you’ve been weighing up adding some bees to your own land, Robinson says that “it can be a painful hobby at times, but the rewards outweigh any pain.”

“I run by the belief the bees always come first when taking honey and leave food for them,” he adds. “If I look after the bees, they will look after me by producing more honey.”

Keeping It Fresh


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A post shared by Martin Robinson (@on_one_acre)

Beyond the bees, Robinson says he’s particularly partial to the baby corn that he grows.

“Tasting it fresh makes you realize how good it tastes compared to anything from the shops,” he explains. “It is able to be eaten fresh straight from the garden or brought inside and put straight into a stir fry. Really, anything from the veggie gardens makes you realize how good fresh is.”

Follow On One Acre at Instagram.

Crops & Gardening Farm & Garden Food Homesteading Permaculture

Author Dani Baker Grows Edibles, Environmental Resilience With Forest Gardening Methods

Plant by plant, Dani Baker has been assembling what she calls her “Enchanted Edible Forest” for the last 10 years. “Going way back to my youth, I’ve been very into being ecologically friendly to the earth, and this technique of gardening is kind of the epitome of that,” she says.

Baker is the author of the forthcoming book The Home-Scale Forest Garden: How to Plan, Plant, and Tend a Resilient Edible Landscape. (Chelsea Green Publishing will release The Home-Scale Forest Garden later this month.) Baker’s own permaculture paradise is based in New York state and boasts hundreds of different edible fruits, nuts and flowers.

The Home-Scale Forest Garden shows readers how to grow a greater diversity of plants across the many levels that make up a forest garden. Those levels include the overstory and understory—where fruit, nut and other trees flourish—as well as shrubs, herbaceous plants, groundcovers, vines and fungi.

A Different Mindset

A traditional vegetable garden requires digging, planting, weeding, watering, fertilizing, pest management and other routine tasks year after year. For their part, edible forest gardens require plenty of work, too. Much of it entails painstaking planning and intensive effort around their initial setup.

But after that? As the (largely perennial) plantings in the forest garden become established, there isn’t nearly as much to do. “It’s not like you’re going to eliminate your labor,” Baker says. “But, for a comparable amount of land, there’s going to be a lot less labor going forward than with an annual vegetable planting—and you’re going to have a huge abundance of harvest.”

She continues, “When you landscape with edibles, you also build in other plants that support those edibles. So, you’re going to minimize your need to add any kind of amendments over time. And you’re going to minimize your need to deal with pests and disease, because of the [plant] diversity [you’ve introduced.]”

Such diversity, in turn, attracts many of the natural predators of garden pests. For instance, while certain kinds of fruit trees might attract voracious caterpillars, other nearby plantings may attract some of the very birds and parasitic wasps that feed on those caterpillars.

Read more: Starting a permaculture garden? Invest in a good shovel.

Where to Start

In The Home-Scale Forest Garden, Baker outlines more than 100 food-bearing and multi-purpose plant species. She also suggests beneficial plant groupings to accommodate different needs in the landscape. But before you know which plants and groupings might work best for you, you’ve got to study your landscape.

“Understand the different habitats that may exist there,” Baker suggests. “Take a soil sample, so you know what the qualities are of your soil. And then do your best to match plants with the type of soil and habitat that you have.”

Aim to include lots of plant diversity across each of the forest garden layers—that is the overstory, understory, shrubs, herbaceous plants, groundcovers, vines and fungi.

It’s also a good idea to think ahead about the trajectory of the elements in your existing landscaping. For example, Baker inherited a number of ash trees along a hedgerow on her property. Due to the widespread and destructive emerald ash borer, she suspects those trees eventually will die.

To plan for that likely outcome, Baker explains, “I built my own hedgerow with mostly edibles—like pecan trees—planted just adjacent and parallel to [the ash trees]. That assumes that my [newly planted] trees … will basically take the place of those ash trees once they’ve died.”

Also, rather than immediately remove dead or dying trees, Baker uses them to support vining edibles like grapes.

Read more: Prune and rejuvenate older fruit trees to give them new life.

Patience Pays Off

By their nature, annual vegetable gardens provide plenty to harvest at the end of a single growing season. That’s not necessarily the case with an edible forest garden. If you plant certain kinds of herbs or, say, strawberries, you might be able to harvest some items during your first year.

Still, as the size and diversity of your edible forest garden grows, so will the time you get to spend harvesting. “Starting in my second year, I was harvesting berries,” Baker recalls. “I started getting a little tree fruit even that early.”

Now, after years tending to so many edible perennial plantings, Baker spends much of her time simply harvesting.

How long it may take you to get to this point depends on your access to land and how much time you can devote. Don’t have much time or land? A simple foundation planting of a single tree ringed with a grouping of beneficial plants is a worthwhile start. So are a few well-placed border plants—perfect for screening out the neighbors while feeding and sheltering birds.

“These are all very simple things that people could incorporate,” Baker says. “And they would benefit them as well as the environment.”

Chickens 101 Farm & Garden Flock Talk Health & Nutrition Poultry

What’s The Average Lifespan Of Chickens, Anyway?

The weather has been somewhat wacky this spring: 80 degrees and sunny, then 30 degrees and snowy, often in the span of a single day. I should therefore not have been surprised to discover eggs in our nest boxes back in March, a good two months before our girls usually start laying. I shared a photo of our first tinted egg of the season on our social media, along with an image of Natalya, the 3-year-old blue Silkie who’d laid it.

A flurry of likes ensued, along with comments praising the little Silkie’s beauty. Amid all the praise, I spied a starkly different comment: “She’s gorgeous! Too bad you’ll have to kill her soon.”

The Commercial Concept

A common—and distressing!—misconception that some new backyard flock owners have is that hens are only useful until they are 3 years old. Once they’ve reached this landmark age, their production plummets and their value zeroes out. When your chickens have reached the end of their lifespan, so it’s best to euthanize them or use them for soup.

As shocking as this misbelief may be, it’s easy to understand where it comes from. Most commercial egg farms keep their layers until the hens reach 2 to 3 years of age. Once their laying stock reaches this age, commercial farms generally dispose of their hens, refreshing their flocks with pullets just past point-of-lay.

Because of this commercial practice, those new to chicken-keeping often assume it’s also standard operating procedure for backyard flocks. They couldn’t be more wrong.

chicken chickens hen hens lifespan lifespans live how long
Ana Hotaling

Small Flock Facts

While it’s true that a hen’s egg production begins to decline after age 3, it is by no means over. With a proper diet, plenty of fresh water, sufficient natural light and a safe living environment, a layer can continue to produce eggs for five to 10 years.

She may only lay an egg every couple of weeks, but she’ll sing her egg song as proudly and loudly as the yearlings.

Read more: Chickens can make a lot of noise. Here’s a quick guide to what they may say.

Lifespan Factors

Many factors affect the lifespan of a chicken. Poor nutrition plays a key role in a hen’s longevity. If not fed a layer ration specifically formulated with the percentages of protein and calcium needed for proper egg production, a hen will draw these building-block nutrients from her own body’s reservoirs, directly impacting her health.

Similarly, continual egg production can negatively impact the lifespan of chickens. Even if fed a nutritious layer ration, daily or near-daily production exhausts and depletes a hen, causing caged-layer fatigue. Allowing laying hens to rest and recuperate during the shorter daylight months can help extend their lives.

Other factors that affect a hen’s lifespan include a safe, clean living environment; poultry illness and parasites; the presence of predators; and the type of chicken she is.

Production hybrids will typically have a shorter lifespan than dual-purpose and heritage breed chickens.

Read more: You can keep the eggs going in winter with some supplemental light.

How Long Can Hens Live?

Given a safe, clean and stress-free living environment, with winters off to rest and replenish their bodies, and plenty of nutritious food and clean water, hens can live as long as eight to 10 years … and quite possibly longer. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the record for world’s oldest chicken is held by Muffy, an American Game bantam who died at the age of 22.

Natalya, being only 3, hopefully has many years ahead of her. She has homegrown inspiration: She shares a coop with Butters, our Spangled Orpington girl, who hatched here on June 30, 2015, and will be 7 next month.

Our grand dame, Dolly Ameraucana, lives in the next coop over. Dolly will be 10 this June, and she is every bit as spry as her daughters Harriet and Laetitia, whom she laid and hatched at the ripe old age of 6.


Episode 29: Fatuma Emmad

Fatuma Emmad

Farming, political science and the food system intersect for Colorado farmer, organizer and professor Fatuma Emmad, the guest on this episode of Hobby Farms Presents: Growing Good. Hear about how her family’s immigration and emigration shaped her understanding of the food system and how that led her to become a farmer herself, now at FrontLine Farming in Denver, Colorado.

You’ll learn how Mile High Farmers, a coalition of 60-plus farmers and supporters, connects eaters and farmers with events and education in health and wellness, racial equity, marketing, land and policy. (Fatuma is president of this nonprofit.) Fatuma also talks about the farming work and food justice work being done at multiple farm sites for FrontLineFarming, including food access initiatives, a paid apprenticeship program and their own search for farmland.

Also learn about the ways farm workers are being supported with Project Protect Food Systems Workers, and take some advice on keeping foodways alive through seed saving.


Animals Beekeeping Farm & Garden

The Business Of Beekeeping At Montana’s Smoot Honey Co.

Watching the semi-truck driver skillfully wind through mature cottonwoods along the river bottom, there was an unmistakable focus. A corny person might say that the mood was abuzz with excitement. Some 1,800 honeybee packages awaited their summer home, ready to be tucked into the new hives before the spring weather changed for the worse.

For this hobbyist beekeeper of well over 20 years, helping a commercial operation such as Smoot Honey Co. in Power, Montana, was an eye-opening experience. Single hive bodies in groups of four sat ready at the first bee yard. As the stacks of 2-pound packages of honeybees lifted off the truck, the crew, most of us donned in white bee suits, divided into two groups.

The first group, which I chose, unstrapped the hives, removed the lids and put the packages out for each of the hives.

Even wearing the bee suit, grabbing a row of bees, particularly the “fuzzy” ones with escapees clinging to the outside of the wire, and holding them to my mid-section initially required a deep breath. But it didn’t take long to fall into the rhythm and not give it a second thought.

We placed a package on each hive, four per group, quickly unloading the entire pallet.

This installing group had its own rhythm, prying up the feeder can and removing the queen cage. When I install packages at home, I typically add a piece of marshmallow to replace the plug of the queen’s cage. But in this smoothly honed operation, they smeared a bit of honey and wax in its place.

Then they set the queen cage on the feeder can. They placed this in the corner of the hive.

They then dumped the bees in the hive, set the package inside and replaced the lid. Despite the added steps to their process, my group could not dawdle and stay ahead of them.

Read more: Ready to buy bees or expand your hive? Here’s how to make the purchase.

Expert Advice

Smoot veterans, employees and friends who’ve been part of this spring dance for decades generously and kindly explained how and why they do things a certain way. There was a distinct sense of camaraderie, even for a newbie.

This is, of course, serious business. But there was still a fair amount of humor, particularly when someone was stung.

Beekeepers are just like that. 

After installing roughly 1,800 hives in three bee yards over four hours—done before the predicted snowfall—my takeaway impression was that it’s like an Amish barn raising, but with more than a million lives at stake. At the end, enjoying the satisfaction of good work, we celebrated with a piece of date cake from their grandmother’s recipe. 

Tradition in a Changing Industry

I also walked away with a greater appreciation for what they do and how they do it. Each year, Smoot Honey typically tends more than 4,500 hives spread over 5,000 square miles, producing close to 600,000 pounds of honey.

There are undoubtedly larger operations in Montana. But Smoot Honey is well-known throughout the region. They’re still closely tied to the national scene, however, when it comes to honey production and the health of the industry. 

honeybees honey Smoot

In the Beginning…

The economic and natural landscape looks differently than when Smoot Honey began in 1964 after Don Smoot and his father, Boyd Smoot, bought the business. In 1996, Don decided to retire so he asked his son, Dan; nephew, James Rehm; and son-in-law, Mark Jensen, to “try it for a year.”

To this day, Jensen and Rehm still helm the operation. 

While they’ve modified their operation as needed, they follow how northern beekeepers used to manage apiaries. Instead of traveling to pollinate orchards in California and other regions, they start with new bees every spring. As long as it works, they’ll continue in this direction.

But outside forces do impact them. 

“A lot of it is due to a shift in farming practices,” Jensen says. “When it’s all sunflowers, soybeans, canola or wheat as far as the eye can see, it doesn’t leave much for the bees.”

Reduced Forage

Mark says there has been more CRP land pulled out of production when grain prices were good. This, in turn, reduces forage for the bees. But there are also some excellent incentives for producers to plant for pollinators through national farming policies.

Plus, organizations like Pheasants Forever work with farms to provide habitat for the birds. This ultimately helps bees.

The second piece that has changed significantly is the presence of the varroa mites beginning in the 1980s. Realistically, beekeepers—whether hobbyist or on a commercial scale—must deal with the mites or likely lose their hives.

This is where Smoot Honey was almost ahead of the game from the beginning. Because it is difficult to winter over hives in northern climates, it was standard practice to gas the bees in the fall and buy new packages in the spring.

As this practice shifted, Smoot Honey found a new market for the honeybees in the fall.

“Around 1990, we started to sell the shake hives in the fall,” Jensen says. “My father-in-law would buy packages for $12 and sell them for $4. The shakers (beekeepers buying the hives) would travel and do all the work.

“We’re still doing the same thing.” 

The good news? The market for bulk bees has grown steadily since the early 2000s, particularly because many large commercial operations switched from primarily honey production to almond pollination. Smoot Honey is able to sell their hives in the fall to offset the cost of spring packages.

Read more: Learn more about the importance of seasonal nectar flow.

The Year in the Bee Yards

The market to buy bees in the spring is challenging some years, depending on how the bees overwintered.

“We have standing orders with different folks,” Jensen says. “Deals between beekeepers are generally done with a handshake, although it’s getting less and less that way.” 

He explained that it’s a balancing act to source their bees. If a particular apiary is accidentally sprayed by agricultural chemicals or is wiped out because of an environmental situation, it’s extremely difficult to find thousands of packages of bees at the last minute. 

Smoot Honey brings in many of their bees from California beekeepers they’ve worked with for years. Almond orchards and honeybees are mutually beneficial to each other.

Obviously, the honeybees enable almond pollination, but the bees also thrive on the nutritious almond pollen. This gives the colonies a boost, growing to a number that allows the beekeepers to split the hives and sell packages to hobbyists and professional beekeepers. 

Buying Bees Local

To further mitigate the risk posed by traveling from California to Montana in the early spring, Smoot Honey also purchases packages from a Montana apiary. “It’s gotten to where it’s not all the eggs in one basket,” Jensen says. 

He notes they also lease semi loads of bees to increase their overall honey production. “Lots of guys don’t have honey territory like we do. And we need more production but don’t have to buy 400 hives. We put them in areas where it’ll produce early.”

Around Memorial Day, they’ll have a truck arrive with 480 hives, which is the average semi load, and put them on land they use near the Smith River. Because the leased bees are already established in hives, they produce honey right out of the gate. The Smith River tends to be an area with a single solid bloom period, which allows them to put up a lot of honey before preparing to go to California for the winter.

Mitigating Challenging Conditions

One advantage of starting with new packages every spring and selling them in the fall: They can leave their hives out longer to produce more honey. Many other commercial beekeepers wrap up their season early in order to prepare them for their journey to warmer climes. But Smoot continues production until late September or even mid-October, depending on the weather. 

“We have a longer season because we’re not treating for mites,” Jensen says. “This year we were done on Oct. 3. In 2019, we were done on Sept. 26, and the next day it snowed 18 inches.”

Even so, honey production has decreased over the years. “The average we produce is 105 pounds per hive,” he says, continuing that in the 1980s and ’90s, the honey harvest would range between 100 to 150 pounds per hive.

Now, many producers are happy with 55 pounds.

Smoot Honey typically harvests between 550,000 to 600,000 pounds of honey each season, which varies depending on the occurrence of late snowstorms, fires, drought, grasshopper invasions or any other matter of agricultural hurdles. “We’re farmers; that’s how we roll,” he says. 

The Beauty of Buying Local 

Smoot packages half of the honey for commitments to statewide businesses. These include Great Harvest Bread Co. in Great Falls, which regularly wins awards with their honey-based bread, as well as other local bakeries, brewing companies and Daily’s Premium Meats, which has partnered with Smoot Honey since the 1980s. 

Local Favorite

Beyond being a key ingredient in local products, central Montana residents find Smoot Honey in grocery stores or by visiting their storefront in Power. In typical Montana fashion, you write your own receipt and leave a check or cash. 

The rest of the honey goes to commercial packers. But the prices add to the industry’s challenge. “Imports have been killing us for 20 years,” Mark says. 

China is the world’s largest producer of honey, but they don’t always play fair.

Years ago, China and Argentina dumped honey, including rice syrup mixed into the product and labeled as honey, on the world market. And while duties and embargoes are in place to slow down the situation, the countries are known to ship the “honey” to India, or another country, where they label it from that particular country.

With a worldwide shortage, inferior “honey” enters the system. 

honeybees honey Smoot

Keep Going

Even with some many challenges, Smoot Honey prepares for another season. “Beekeepers are very resilient,” he says. “As an industry we’ve been pretty good about adapting. You figure out how to keep going.” 

Jensen was 25 when his father-in-law asked him to consider joining the family business. “Giving it a year” led to a lifelong career where family and friends work together. With his nephew working as the fourth generation in the business, there’s hope to continue the family business. But like everything in agriculture, nothing is a sure thing. 

“It’s still a good way of life, but the cliff is closer than it used to be,” Jensen says. 

In the meantime, Smoot Honey is gearing up for the upcoming season when everyone will be back in the bee yards, undoubtedly racing the snow, and hoping for a very good year. 

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To Bee of Service 

You don’t have to keep bees to help bees. One way we can do our part to remedy the current situation is to buy local. If a regional honey isn’t available, at least read the label to make sure it’s from the United States. 

Smoot Honey’s co-owner, Mark Jensen, also comments on how anyone can plant for pollinators. Last year at Smoot Honey headquarters, they planted a small plot of a pollination mix that blooms from spring to fall. 

“It was cool,” Jensen says. “In July, we had I don’t know how many species of bumble­bees. It was nuts. It was alive with flying creatures.”

Everyone can do this to benefit their local bees.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

Equipment Farm & Garden Homesteading Projects

Add A Farmhouse Porch Swing For Seasonal Fun

Having worked my way through nine seasons of Little House on the Prairie, I recently decided it was time to try out its iconic 1970s rival: The Waltons. I quickly learned that despite amusing overlap in character actors and plot lines, there were some significant differences between the two shows as well.

Most importantly: The Waltons had a porch swing.

Now, the Ingalls’ lack of a porch swing could likely be attributed to the lack of a front porch on their little house on the prairie. The Waltons’ home (recycled from Mayberry R.F.D., by the way) boasted an expansive veranda with ample space for a charming porch swing. The Walton family spent plenty of hours on that porch swing, and it became an iconic piece of television memorabilia.

In 2015, the owner of the swing sold it to Warner Brothers for an undisclosed sum. The proceeds benefited a children’s residential treatment center.

That’s a lot of enthusiasm for a porch swing! And why not? A porch swing is a staple of farmhouse life, as integral to the framework of the home as window boxes and apple pies.

Read more: Harvest fruit faster with this advanced fruit-picking bucket!

Meet the Swing

There’s something comforting about a porch swing—the coziness, the peaceful rhythm drifting back and forth like a rural lullaby sung to the song of the stars and the moon and the peepers.

Any farming or agricultural pursuit requires a lot of time outside. And a lot of those hours involve fighting the elements.

We work in the weather all the time, but we don’t spend enough time just enjoying the outdoors. So when we do find some downtime, what better place to go than the porch swing? 

Seat of History 

The porch swing, it seems, didn’t really exist prior to the 1880s. By 1900, newspapers advertised porch swings along with hammocks as tools for combating the dog days of summer. In those days, you could snag a porch swing for $3.75.

The Lewisburg Journal in Pennsylvania described the new-fangled porch swing in their June 15, 1900 issue. “A large seat suspended by stout reliable ropes. Hung from the ceiling of porch or the limb of tree. [Won’t] disarrange one’s clothes and hair like the hammock. They are comparatively new. We will show them in town for the first time.”

(Historical note: In those days, the swings were described as “2-passenger,” as opposed to “2-person” or “2-seater” as they’re known today.)

By 1910, you could purchase porch swings in any manner of styles and materials. And free installation was a popular marketing technique of the time. “[Hanging the swing is] not the easiest task in the world,” read an advertisement in The Indianapolis Star in 1909. “We supply the chain and hang every swing bought of us,” it added. 

In 1913, syndicated columnist George Fitch penned a widely circulated article entitled “The Porch Swing” that compared the charms of the porch swing versus that of the automobile.

“A porch swing can be bought on installments like the automobile, but the buyer does not have to mortgage his home in order to do it.” 

A Timeless Classic

By the 1950s, however, porch swings had fallen out of fashion as American lifestyles evolved. Still, the porch swing remains an icon of the South. Not that northern inhabitants dislike porch swings. But those in southern climates have the opportunity to utilize their porch swings for far more of the year than their northern neighbors.

While a December night might be splendid for porch swinging in South Carolina, the same swing would most likely be covered in a foot of snow in Minnesota—not exactly conducive to small talk and secrets.

Read more: Add these 20 homesteading skills this year!

The Nuts & Bolts 

A porch swing is a porch swing, right? Not so fast!

You can have a hanging porch swing, which is suspended by chains from the joists of the porch ceiling. Or you can choose a freestanding porch swing that has a frame and a canopy overhead.

There are advantages to the freestanding swing. You can move it around if you decide you prefer a different location. Plus it’s a safe alternative if your porch ceiling isn’t secure enough to support a hanging swing. 

But there’s something decidedly traditional about a hanging swing, with its thick chains or rope and permanent location on your porch. 

Materials Matter

A porch swing can be crafted from a variety of materials. Wood is obviously a classic choice, but metal, plastic or wicker are also options. Your choice of material will reflect your priorities in terms of durability, comfort and aesthetic. 

Aluminum porch swings are durable but a bit light and might bang around somewhat in windy conditions. The same can be said for wicker and some light plastics. Swings made of quality HDPE (high density polyethylene), however, are heavier and may rival wood for sturdiness. 

Wrought iron swings have a classic look and are much heavier than aluminum but may not be the most comfortable swing unless cushions are added. Wrought iron is also susceptible to paint chipping. In the end, your porch swing will probably become a cherished piece of family furniture with plenty of memories surrounding it, regardless of the material you choose.

farmhouse porch swing wood
Daniel Johnson
Would Wood Work?

It’s worth looking a bit more closely at the various wood types that can be used for a swing. Strong, durable woods such as cedar, cypress or teak are perennial favorites for outdoor furniture, including porch swings.

These woods tend to be naturally rot-resistant when exposed to the elements. This gives them a long outdoor lifetime. 

Cedar and cypress will turn a pleasing gray over time if left natural, although you can stain them as well for a different color and for added protection.

Cedar, in particular, has that awesome pleasant scent that everybody seems to love. It also has some insect-resistance.

Cypress performs well in applications where it doesn’t touch the ground—so it can be just right for a porch swing project.

Teak can be an expensive wood, but might be worth the cost because of its natural water-resistant oils, along with the fact that it continues to darken to an attractive brown over time. 

If cost is a factor, or you’d just like to keep things simple, you can always opt for pressure-treated pine, leaving the wood natural or painted/stained. Treated pine has a very long lifespan, even in an outdoor setting. A swing in the fairly protected environment of your porch may last even longer.

However, pine is a softwood and may damage easily from nicks and bumps.

Safety First!

Always keep safety in mind when it comes to installing your porch swing. Carefully follow the manufacturer’s directions for assembly and installation, paying special attention to the necessary requirements for safe hanging from your porch ceiling. Your ceiling joists will need to be of sufficient size (2-by-8 is commonly recommended) to support the weight of your swing when it’s occupied by two or three people. 

You’ll also need to invest in the appropriate heavy-duty hanging hardware so that your porch swing can hang safely and securely. If you opt for a DIY porch swing rather than one from a manufacturer, you can find step-by-step instructions online that explain all the specifics and considerations for safely installing your swing. 

You certainly don’t want the swing to somehow come free and crash down, especially when people are using it, so always prioritize safety and correct installation. Also, always consider the specific weight capacity of your particular swing. This figure will vary.

DIY Tips

Porch swings are the stuff of Hallmark movies (so romantic!). And making one yourself can be a real labor of love.

But there is just something nice about a manageable-but-large project such as a porch swing that appeals to the DIY nature of many people. If the thought of constructing your own wooden porch swing appeals to you, keep the following tips in mind.

farmhouse porch swing wood paint
Daniel Johnson
Get Help If You Need It

Not everyone has a carpentry background. While a porch swing certainly isn’t the most difficult project in the world, a project like this needs to be of sound construction.

You might enlist the help of a friend or relative with carpentry skills. They’ll probably jump at the chance to work on something fun like this. 

Use Rust-Resistant Hardware 

Be sure to purchase exterior-grade screws, hooks, chains and other metal hardware for your porch swing that won’t rust or degrade and will look fantastic.

Use a Plan

If you don’t have experience designing furniture, research plans that are already tried-and-true. You might also want to avoid getting too fancy with an initial DIY project. Save the graceful curving armrests for a future project! 

Finishing Touches

Once your new porch swing is installed and ready to go, you’ll probably still want to add a couple of finishing touches to make the final product picture-perfect. Some of these might include:

Upholstered Cushions

Comfortable though the porch swing may be on its own, a nice selection of outdoor-safe upholstered cushions will help make it even more relaxing. Plus, you can utilize attractive patterns to upgrade your outdoor space and interesting colors to compliment your home’s exterior. 

Musical Instruments

They knew all about simple pleasures in the old days—just think of Andy Griffith sitting on the porch and casually strumming a guitar.

If you’re looking for your own taste of Mayberry, consider adding a guitar, harmonica, kalimba or other portable musical instrument. See who shows up for the outdoor concert!

Porch Swing Beverages

It almost goes without saying that you’ll be most likely using your front porch on warm days and evenings. A nice pitcher of icy lemonade, sweet tea or a couple of cans of soda will add the perfect finishing touch to this wonderful setting.

And if the weather does cool off, you can always swap them out for coffee and hot chocolate! 

With a swing in place, your porch will become an idyllic hub for family gatherings, reminiscent of the olden days and a gentle reminder to slide into a slower pace of life. Perfect for breezy days and evenings filled with the chirps of crickets, this simple addition to your home will soon grow into a centerpiece of sentiment and solace. 

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Porch Gliders

Similar to the porch swing, the porch glider is a stationary unit that you don’t have to suspend from above. The relaxation benefits are the same as the swing, with greater ease of setup. Plus you can move a glider around more easily. 

No front porch? No problem! Place your porch glider in any suitable location with a good view and glide into some downtime.

Extra Tip

Porch swings need more space than you might think. It’s more than just the physical size of the swing. Whether it’s 4- or 5-feet-long doesn’t matter much). You have to factor in the necessary vacant space around the swing (2 to 4 feet on all sides).

You’ll hang your porch swing so that it’s approximately 18 inches off of the ground—just the right distance to make swinging comfortable for everyone. 

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

Equipment Farm & Garden

5 Features To Consider When Buying A Tractor Grapple

One of the most useful and versatile attachments a tractor can utilize is a grapple. Mounted in place of the bucket on a front-end loader, a grapple is essentially a claw with hydraulically-controlled jaws that open and close. They grab hold of materials not so easily scooped with a bucket.

Think about it. A bucket is great for handling loose materials like dirt and compost.

But try to pick up a brush pile with a bucket, and you won’t get very far. Front forks might fare a little better. But they can’t grip items the way a grapple can, so you run the risk of dropping some (or all?) of your load during transport.

You can use grapples in many ways. Depending on the design, they can perfectly pick up branches, brush, logs, boulders and more. They can dig up roots, rocks and small trees. Some models even combine a bucket with a grapple so you can have the best of both worlds.

But as implied, you will run across many types of grapples. Figuring out which one you need isn’t always easy. While names can help (a brush grapple does great with brush, a root grapple digs roots well, etc.), you won’t necessarily find standardized differences between each type.

Therefore, rather than focus too much on names, we’ll highlight a few of the key features to consider when shopping for a grapple.

Read more: Check out these 4 helpful, unusual tractor attachments.

How much does the grapple weigh?

Grapples can be heavy, so consider the weight of the implement and strength of your tractor before making a purchase. Buying a powerful, heavy-duty grapple won’t do you much good if the grapple takes up a big portion of your tractor’s lifting capacity.

What is the width of the grapple?

The width of the grapple is an important factor. The wider the grapple, the more brush and debris it can grab hold of at once. On the other hand, you may find a narrow grapple lighter and more maneuverable, while focusing its strength into a smaller area. So bigger isn’t always better.

Depending on the size and strength of your tractor, a narrow grapple might actually carry more than a wide grapple. The narrow grapple probably weighs less and leaves more lifting capacity for the lead itself.

Read more: Make sure you respect your payload and towing limits.

How many lids does the grapple have?

If you opt for a wide grapple, you’ll want to consider how many lids it has. A lid is the upper jaw of the grapple, which bites down toward the lower jaw to pin loads in place. In many cases, you’ll just need a single lid.

But if you have two lids that adjust independently of each other, they can provide a tighter grip on misshapen loads by individually biting down as much as needed to secure a grip.

How long are the grapple teeth?

The length of the teeth on a grapple is a factor in determining its intended use. Long teeth can do great at digging into the ground for removing roots and rocks.

Consider also whether the teeth are replaceable, since teeth used for digging are bound to suffer significant wear and tear over time.

Is the bottom jaw a bucket?

We mentioned earlier that picking up brush with a bucket isn’t so easy, but if the bucket is part of a grapple, then all bets are off. Add a lid or two to help pin debris into the bucket, and you can securely move a load while also benefiting from the impermeable nature of the bucket.

It won’t let small pieces of debris fall through the way an open grapple will. Of course, if you want dirt, small rocks and such to pass through, an open design might do better.

One thing is certain—a tractor armed with a grapple is a brush-clearing force to reckon with, no matter which type you wind up buying.