April Flowers and May Showers?

Hello Tillers Enthusiasts,

What a spring we are having! Our classes at the Cooks Mill Learning Center have really kicked off for the season with our draft horse basics and beekeeping being among our more popular classes.

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Despite the cold and rainy weather, enthusiasm was high among the students of our Draft Horse Basics class the week of April 4th.  We had a great group of people from all backgrounds and experience levels.

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The class was lead by one of our board members, Duane Westrate, who is an excellent teamster and teacher. Duane brought one of his Suffolk Punch draft horses over for the class to be matched with one of our single Belgian draft horses which made two complete teams for the students to work with. Having Duane’s Suffolk, Buster, also provided an opportunity for the shorter participants in the class to practice harnessing a horse that is a little more suited in size for them. Students quickly realized that though the Suffolk Punch is shorter they can still hold their weight when it comes to draft power and getting the job done! Tillers’ draft horse teams are comprised of two Belgian drafts, Tom and Prince and our lone Belgian, Bob, who was teamed up with Buster and they work very well together.

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We were fortunate to have a couple of dry days during the week long class giving the students a chance to try their hand at plowing behind the horses.  By the end of the week, each student was able to confidently harness the horses, plow behind and drive the team and attach several different implements behind each horse team. It was a wonderful week and we hope to see the students from this class back for more educational experiences here at Tillers.

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Let’s talk Honey Bees folks!

What amazing creatures they are, did you know that a queen bee can live for 3-5 years and lay up to 2,000 eggs per day or that they need to store up to 70lbs of honey in their hive to survive a Michigan winter?! The Tillers bee keeping class was lead by Tom Roberts, bee extraordinaire. The class was a two day event over the weekend of April 30th. Most of our students were familiar with beekeeping in some capacity and, or were preparing to receive their first package of bees in the coming weeks.

Tillers usually keeps 3-4 hives on the property but sadly, we lost 3 of our hives over the winter. While it is always a tragedy to lose bees, it did provide an opportunity for students to experience how to set up a hive and add new bees. We ordered 3 packages containing 3lbs of honey bees each, all 3 packages arrived the morning of the class. It is quite an experience to hold a box of humming and vibrating bees, all of your bodily instincts are telling you to run away from these buzzing creatures and yet they are surprisingly very docile.

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Tom Roberts lead the class through all the different parts of the hive box including bottom board, brood box, brood frames, queen excluders and supers (the honey chamber). He explained the different roles that each class of bees play within the hive, for example, drones (male bees) do not sting and do not forage, their role is strictly to mate with queen bees, lucky guys! The queen is the sole egg layer and the worker bees, work. The worker bees are responsible for foraging and making honey, bee bread, storing pollen, and defending the hive. Honey bees make more than just honey, they create a substance called propolis from mixing bees wax and sap collected from trees. The bees use propolis to seal leaks and holes in their hive as well as cement the frames of the hive box together which is why it is important to have a good set of hive tools when working with bees. A beekeeper should wear a bee suit, veil, and gloves when working with the hive and use a hive tool and a smoker. Tom demonstrated to the students how to wear and use all of these tools and then turned the class loose to practice working on the hives themselves.

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What about the HONEY you ask? The class participants learned to use our honey extractor on the last day of class. Each student took a turn at slicing the capped honey and placing it in the extractor. We extracted from the honey supers collected from our hives that did not survive the winter. With sticky fingers and smiles on their faces each student was able to taste the fruits of the bees’ and their labor and take home a small jar of the honey that they had extracted.

Thanks BEES!

 

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Thank you for checking in on us here at the Cooks Mill Learning Center. Stay tuned for updates on our timber framing class and news around the farm.