Essential Natural Dye Tools and Materials

natural dye tools and materials

There are certain essentials in natural dye tools and materials, that need to be gathered before you begin to set up a natural dye workshop. Your original impression might be that this will really add up to a lot of money. That is actually not the case! First lets go over the tools you need, then I will give you some tips on shopping for deals.

Before You Buy Anything…

It’s important that you keep your natural dye tools, and equipment separate from the pots, pans and utensils used for cooking food. Even using substances from nature can lead to toxic buildup on cookware and utensils. With a small investment, you can gather equipment specifically for your dye work.

Look for used or new, stainless steel pots. You can use aluminum pots but the metal might affect the resulting color. Once I fell in love with the natural dye process, I invested in a large stainless steel pot that can handle a larger amount of fiber or yarn. These are great for natural dye tools.

A bucket for rinsing out the yarn can be useful. Small measuring cups for dissolving powdered dyes with a little water come in handy. A glass mason style jar is another option. Measuring spoons, long handled tongs, long wooden or metal spoons, strainers, and pot holders are essential. Once you begin experimenting with pH, a pack of pH strips will come in handy.

What to Use for a Heat Source

Unless you stick to solar dyeing, you need a heat source to simmer the dye vats. My favorite method is an outdoor camp style propane stove. I didn’t purchase this right away for my natural dye tools. It is one of the more expensive equipment additions. In the meantime I used various electric burners outside on our covered deck.

natural dye workshop

It’s not advisable to heat dye pots inside your house unless you have really good ventilation. Even natural substances can release irritating fumes when heated.

Eventually, I upgraded to the propane stove. The electric burners were fine for small batches. As I began dyeing larger batches, I needed more power to heat the water.

Keep Safety Gear with Your Natural Dye Tools

Some materials are irritating to lungs and eyes. Eye protection and dust masks are inexpensive essential items to include in your dye kit.

Other Essential Natural Dye Tools

A long stem candy or brewing thermometer helps you keep the dye at the correct temperature. An infrared thermometer is another option.

Most dye measurements require a scale. Postage or kitchen digital scales are great for dye work. Having a scale that measures in grams is particularly helpful in your natural dye workshop.

A drop cloth and disposable gloves are good additions.

natural dye tools

Do You Need Alum in Your Natural Dye Workshop?

Alum is the most common substance used as a mordant for natural dye work. Cream of Tarter is often used along with alum as a softening agent. Both of these substances help the yarn become receptive to the dye, allowing it to stick.

With some natural dye substances, particularly berries, vinegar can be the mordant that prepares the yarn to accept the color.

Washing soda, and iron are easy to find modifiers that can substantially shift the color of the dye.

Other mordants and modifiers are a bit tricky and not recommended for beginning dye work.

One Last Essential Addition to Your Natural Dye Tools

No natural dye workshop is complete without a notebook for recording your details and results. Keep track of your measurements in the notebook, including how much dye material you used and the ratio of mordant to dry wool. ( Usually 10 to 12%). Note the weight of the yarn being dyed as this is important to repeating your results later.

Add a small piece of your fiber or yarn to the notebook. This is my favorite part of my natural dye notebook.

This is a great place to note how each dye substance worked for you. Note the season you gathered the material, and if you used the flowers, leaves or roots.

List of Natural Dye Workshop Supplies

  • pots and pans
  • strainer, fine mesh and regular
  • outdoor heat source
  • digital scale
  • cooking utensils
  • thermometer
  • safety gear
  • pH strips
  • mordants and modifiers
  • drop cloth, rubber gloves
  • hangers for drying yarn
  • buckets for rinsing yarn

Keep track of what you forage and grow in the garden for your natural dye work. The possibilities are endless when you have your own natural dye tools ready to use. You can read more about raising fiber animals, and all the lovely crafts you can do with wool and natural fibers in my book. Enjoy the journey!

Quiet Chickens – What Breeds to Choose in the Suburbs

quiet chickens  what breeds to choose in the suburbs

Quiet Chickens – Is that an option?

Are there quiet chickens that won’t disturb the neighbors? Many suburban and city neighborhoods have voted to allow residents to keep a few chickens in the backyard. This recent question was posed to me by a resident trying to get her town to allow chicken keeping. Generally speaking, I don’t find chickens noisy. Yes, roosters will crow, but most urban cities and suburban towns prohibit roosters, so that is not the concern. Hens will be more quiet than most dogs, as they go about their daily scratching and pecking.

The hen who is about to lay an egg or who has just accomplished her daily work, will cackle loudly. The hen is announcing her good deed for all to hear. But it isn’t as loud as a rooster and the cackle ends quickly. Other than that and an occasional tiff between two wannabe alpha hens, noise should not be a prohibiting factor. 

Which Breeds are the Quiet Chickens?

speckled sussex hen
Speckled Sussex

Even among hens, some breeds tend to be more settled and less flighty than other chicken breeds. When looking for quiet chickens the first breed often named is the Buff Orpington. Buff Orpingtons rate high on many of the factors people are looking for in backyard poultry. They are quiet, docile, friendly and fluffy birds. Orpingtons seek out their human caregivers by asking to be picked up with a submissive squat. They rarely become the mean girl in the bunch, and spend their days happily doing chicken stuff.

quiet hens

Other breeds often mentioned when seeking quiet chickens for the urban setting are Australorps, Wyandottes, Brahmas, Cochins, Barred Rock, Mottled Java (a breed currently on the Livestock Conservancy listing as in danger) Ameraucanas, and Rhode Island Red.

My personal favorite docile, quiet chickens have been the Orpingtons, Speckled Sussex, Brahmas and Wyandottes.

When receiving input on this topic from other chicken owners, quite a few stated that their Easter Egger hens were the loudest ones they owned.

What is Normal Behavior Even for Quiet Chickens

assorted chicken breeds
Left Silver Laced Wyandotte, light Brahma behind her, Middle Buff Orpington with Australorp behind her. Right, Rhode Island Red

In a flock without a rooster, it is common for one of the hens to assume the leadership of the flock. She will call the other chickens when treats are being given, or when danger is lurking. While not as loud and disturbing as a rooster crowing, the caution clucking is louder than normal activity clucking. This can be a warning to the chicken owner, as well, that something is wrong in the yard.

quiet chickens

What Can You do To Keep Chickens Quiet?

Are there chicken keeping tricks that help keep the flock peaceful and quiet? Consider these ideas when planning your flock.

  • Partially covered run for shade and protection. If the chickens feel safe from aerial predators they won’t carry on as long with loud cackling. The shade protects them from hot summer days, giving them a place to rest with less risk of heat stroke.
  • Chicken toys. If you have an adventurous flock, perhaps a home made chicken swing will add to their entertainment. Or try hanging a cabbage on a string for their pecking amusement.
  • Dust bathing chickens seem very content. Give the flock an area that has a mixture of sand, wood ash, DE powder, and dry dirt. Toss in a few dried grubs to get the party started. After a snack and a good dusting, your chickens will feel like they spent the day at the spa. Totally zen!
  • Make sure the flock has the necessities of clean fresh water, chicken feed, and a place to shelter if the weather is bad, or uninvited predators arrive.

Talk to Chicken Keeping Friends

Talking chicken breeds with other chicken keepers is a great way to narrow down the quieter breeds for your flock. Another good resource for new or aspiring chicken owner is the local farm store where you might choose to purchase chicks. The staff or owner should be knowledgeable about which breeds would be a good choice for you.

If you order from a mail order hatchery, I have found the staff and personnel to be very helpful and informative, too. Ask questions and prepare before you bring home the chicks. Have the brooder and the accessories set up before hand. This starts all new chicken owners off on the right foot.

If you’re looking for more opinions on which breeds of chickens will keep your peace loving neighbors happy, look to the comments. Originally written in 2015 and many readers have weighed in on their favorite breeds for quiet chickens.

quiet chickens

(This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share some commission.)

Overgrown Goat Hoof Care Steps to Take

overgrown goat hoof care

Overgrown goat hoof issues are a big problem for goats. It’s unlikely that you will always keep up with hoof trimming. Life gets busy, bad weather occurs, goats are feisty and hard to control, and the next thing you know it’s been too long. Your goats have overgrown hooves.

Keeping up with hoof trimming should be a priority for all goat owners. The first step in the proper care of goats is learning how to perform a proper hoof trimming. I understand that it can be scary to begin cutting off hoof material on your goat. The hoof shears are very sharp, and your goat is probably not going to cooperate.

Gather Supplies for Hoof Trimming

The first steps in a successful remedy of overgrown goat hoof issues is to gather the tools for the job. You will want the hoof shears to be sharp. Struggling with a wiggly goat while trying to cut through excess hoof material is not fun. The sharp clippers will help you cut the first time, with less struggle.

Treats are helpful for keeping your goat distracted. A yummy snack also helps the goat associate hoof trimming with good things.

It is possible to trim an overgrown goat hoof without placing the goat on a stand, but it’s much easier if you have one. A simple home made milking stand is all you need, or you can purchase a metal stand from a livestock supply retailer. The goat stand will provide a way for you to secure the goat’s head and reduces movement while you trim the hooves.

What to Look for on the Overgrown Goat Hoof

Goat hooves grow from the sides down and the overgrowth folds under the hoof. The over grown goat hoof provides a place for pockets of mud, manure, and rot to hide out. It is recommended that goat hooves be trimmed every 6-8 weeks to keep this under control. If I am honest, I will tell you that I usually can get to this every 10 weeks.

Overgrown goat hoof care

Supplies for Hoof Trimming

Get ready for overgrown goat hoof care by gathering the supplies and tools. Here’s what I use.

  • Hoof Shears
  • Towel for wiping muddy hooves
  • Hoof Pic
  • Treats to distract the goat
  • Milking stand or some way to hold the goat still
  • Cornstarch for a blood stop if needed

Removing the Overgrown Goat Hoof Material

Once your goat is secure, run your hand down a front leg, towards the hoof and life the lower leg, while bending it at the knee joint. If necessary, wipe away mud and use the hoof pick to clear out excess mud and manure from the bottom of the foot. Be careful to not dig or scrape too hard as the center is softer tissue than the outer rim.

a well shaped goat hoof

Once you can clearly see the over grown goat hoof material, use your clippers to trim away the excess hoof growth. The final shape should be wedge like. If your goat has extreme overgrown goat hooves, you might need to work in slow, frequent trimmings, to get the shape back to normal.

Moving on to the Back Feet

Usually I work around the goat from front foot to back feet and finish on a positive note with the remaining front foot. Once you have trimmed your goats hooves you will understand what I mean by this. Here’s the psychology behind the goat behavior.

Goats are prey animals. If a large predator was chasing the goat, the back leg is often what they will catch, and pull the goat down. The instinct when you try to grab the back leg and work on overgrown goat hoof care, is to resist. The goat will fight you, kick, and even try to jump from the stand. Be ready. This is a great time for a helper to distract your goat with treats and soft words.

Work Quickly on the Back Feet to Reduce Stress

If you are ready for this behavior you can prepare by pinning the goat more firmly against the wall, talking to reassure the goat that it is you, and working as quickly as possible. While your goat may never be completely comfortable during hoof trimming, a continued regular routine will reduce the anxiety.

Overgrown Goat Hoof Care – What Else to Look For

Examine the hoof for general good structure. Is there any odor, soft spots on the outer hoof, and rotting? Note any areas of tenderness and look for the cause. If the ground has been very wet, the goat may have early signs of hoof scald. Hoof rot has a particular smell and is caused by a fungus and a bacteria.

hoof trimming

Healthy hooves are integral to good goat health. If a goat experiences pain when walking, it will browse less, move less, and eat less. Some goats that need overgrown goat hoof care will even begin walking on their knees. Hoof trimming is one of the most important care routines you will perform on your goats.

Managing and Composting Chicken Manure

composting chicken manure

Composting chicken manure is a side benefit of raising chickens. This beneficial by-product must be managed before it can be used as a garden amendment. Chickens provide us with hours of companionship, fresh eggs, and……manure! Lots of manure. Approximately one cubic foot of manure is produced by each chicken in approximately six months. Multiply that by the six chickens in an average back yard flock and you have a mountain of manure every year!

If you live on a farm, that may not  be a problem, but in a backyard and in a neighborhood, there has to be a plan to take care of the chicken manure. How can you turn your pile of chicken manure into something  beneficial like the delicious eggs your hens are producing? With a little extra effort the manure can be turned into rich compost for your garden and maybe you will have enough to share with the neighbors, too. 

Cautions when Composting Chicken Manure 

Most chicken owners know that fresh chicken manure can contain Salmonella or E.Coli bacteria. In addition, the fresh manure contains too much ammonia to use as a fertilizer and the odor makes it unpleasant to be around. But, when properly composted, chicken manure is an excellent soil amendment. Compost does not have the unpleasant odor. Chicken manure compost adds organic matter back into the soil and contributes nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to the soil. 

managing and composting chicken manure

Two Reasons to Compost the Chicken Manure

  1. 1. Adding the manure directly to the garden can spread pathogenic organisms to the soil which can be picked up by low growing leafy greens and fruit. 
  2. 2. Fresh  manure will burn the plants roots and leaves because it is too strong or “hot” unless it is composted. 

How to Compost Chicken Manure

The waste you scrape out of the coop, including all of the shavings, sawdust, straw and hay can be added to the compost bin with the fresh manure. Compost components are usually labeled either brown or green. The bedding materials, along with any additional yard plant debris, leaves,  small sticks, and paper would be your brown parts. The manure, and kitchen scraps would be the green parts. When composting chicken manure, a recommended level of 2 parts brown to one part green is recommended because of the high nitrogen content in the manure. Place all the materials in the compost bin or composter. (One cubic yard is recommended as the size of the bin). 

composting chicken manure

Continue to Turn the Compost Pile

Mix and regularly stir and turn the composting material. Occasionally check the inner core temperature of the material. A temperature of 130 degrees F or up to 150 degrees is recommended in order to allow the soil bacteria to break down the pathogenic bacteria from the manure. Turning and stirring the pile allows air to enter and the good bacteria need some fresh air to continue working. After approximately one year, you should have some very rich, valuable compost suitable for your garden. All of the E.Coli and Salmonella should have been destroyed by the heat produced during composting. It is still advisable to carefully wash any produce grown in a compost fed garden. 

A Few Safety Precautions

  • Always wear gloves when handling manure.
  • Do not add cat, dog, or pig feces into your compost.
  • Always wash produce thoroughly before eating. Individuals with compromised health should not eat raw food from a manure fed garden.

Containers for Composting Chicken Manure

Composting bins can be made from many different materials. You can, of course, buy a small compost system like this one. (affiliate link)

Do it Yourself style compost systems are easy to put together. Using a few wooden pallets, a series of three bins gives you a system for composting chicken manure.

pallet compost bins

When less space is available, chicken wire can be formed into a bin for containing the coop waste.

chicken manure

Best Tips For Keeping a Honey Bee Hive

Keeping a honey bee hive

I clearly remember our beginning days of keeping a honey bee hive. Gathering tips from other bee keepers was most helpful in getting started. We chose a deep Langstroth hive. Despite some misgivings from family members our hive of honey bees got off to a good start. 

Before we get into the types of hives, and the location lets discuss the bees themselves. For our first hive we chose to purchase a nuc (short for nuclear colony),  from a local apiary.

This is not the only way to get started. You can also purchase a package of bees, and a separate queen, or you can capture a swarm if one happens to take up residence on your property.

Advantage of a Nuc when Keeping a Honey Bee Hive

The advantages of buying a nuc for first time beekeepers is that the bees are already starting to produce comb and honey when you bring them home. You simply put on your bee protective clothing and transfer the ten frames from the cardboard box, into your hive. The colony has already accepted the queen and they have mated with her so you have varying ages of brood ready to mature and take over as older bees die out.

Langstroth honey bee hive

When adding bees, first take the time to learn how to begin keeping a honey bee hive. It deserves some unique considerations. Just as when adding any animal to the farm, being prepared before the bees come home, will help you be successful  

Bees will  require water, shade, a sturdy hive, and during some parts of the year, they may require feeding. Bees will fly a long distance every day to find enough pollen. Grasses, trees, herbs, flowers, and weeds all produce pollen that is used by bees to feed the hive. You don’t need to have a flourishing flower bed in your yard to begin keeping a honey bee hive. Having a varied garden will help the bees get enough food.

location of honey bee hives

Location for the Hive  (Tip #1)

We chose a spot for the bee hive that received sun but was also some shade to protect the colony from overheating. The growth near the hive would provide some nearby pollen, and also provide some protection from the elements. The bees stayed active as long as the sun was shining. Orient the door away from any traffic area near your house or barns. In other words, you don’t want to be walking through the flight path the bees use to get back to the door of the hive. The honey bees are very protective of their home and if they feel a large intruder is attempting to enter the hive they get a little stressed!

Learn the Terms for Keeping a Honey Bee Hive

Apiculture is the practice of keeping and maintaining bees and their hives. The beekeeper is also referred to as the apiarist and the entire colony set up is called the Apiary. Bee keeping has grown in popularity in recent years and the raw honey, beeswax and royal jelly are much sought after products.

Keeping a honey bee hive

Types of  Bee Hives

Skep – Long ago, beekeepers used something called a skep to house bees. This is no longer used because it is hard to remove the honey from the skep and this type of hive is difficult to clean and can become unsanitary. Although they are no longer used, skeps can be a decorative addition to a collection of vintage farming equipment.

Top Bar  –  The Top Bar Hive looks similar to a trough used for animal feeding. The bees make their own comb by drawing it down from the wooden bar inside the top of the hive.

Top bar honey bee hive
photo courtesy of Pasture Deficit Disorder

Langstroth – In many parts of the country, the Langstroth hive is what you will commonly see. The Langstroth consists of wooden boxes called supers, stacked on top of each other. They are sitting on a base called the foundation board, and topped with a lid, or cover. Inside, the bees create their comb and fill the cells with honey on waxed  frames that hang vertically inside the super. Langstroth is the type of hive we chose to use. 

Warre Hive –  The Warre has been compared to a cross between a hollowed out tree and a top bar hive. The Warre Hives are smaller than the Top Bar and the Langstroth versions. I actually think I would like to try one of the Warre Hives one day.


What Additional Equipment is Needed When Keeping a Honey Bee Hive?

  • Smoker
  • Hive tool- helps with lifting the frames from the supers
  • Honey extraction equipment  
  • Protective clothing 
  • Entrance feeder for fall and winter

installing nuc into a honey bee hive
the installation from the nuc box to the hive was very easy and simple

The first spring and summer

When our day arrived to pick up the NUC. I was unsure about having the box file box size container of live bees in the car with me! Once I met the apiarist and received the bees, my fears were put to rest. The bees were safely contained in a well sealed file box type container called a NUC. The bees seemed peaceful and fairly quiet. My neighbor and I headed back to her yard to install the bees in their new hive.

At the time, we only had one bee suit and it was not mine, so I was the designated photographer. It was still early in the morning and the bees were still sleepy so I was able to get fairly close with the zoom lens without upsetting the bees. The frames were transferred from the NUC to the super and the cover  was put on top.

We made sure they had a shallow pan of water nearby, so they wouldn’t tire themselves out getting a drink after all the excitement of moving day. That was about it for the installation. The whole process took less than half an hour and was drama free.

honey bees

Watch for reaction to high heat days. (Tip #2)

Our bees started to collect on the outside of the hive, which is called bearding.

We noticed bearding on the hive during a spell of extremely hot summer weather. This means that the bees were hanging on the side of the hive. Lots of them were hanging in clusters on the outside of the hive.

I spoke with a local apiarist from the beekeepers association and he asked if the hive was ventilated. Since I did not know what he was referring to, it was obvious that we had missed doing this. The fix was simple. Don the suit, find some small twigs and add a small twig between the layers of the hive to allow some air to enter. I guess we missed that tip, when setting up the hive. It’s great to have a mentor when keeping a honey bee hive for the first time.

honey bee hive

Is Ventilation Required All Year?

Ventilation is important even during the winter so, we will be leaving the twigs between the layers. If the weather is extremely cold, we can reduce the size of the door opening to keep the hive warmer. Check with your local beekeepers since your winter weather will vary from ours.

Once the hive was ventilated by inserting small twigs between the layers of the supers, and between the top super and the cover and lid, the bearding stopped. The bees were just too warm inside, and had decided to come out for some fresh air.

Fall and Heading into Winter (Tip #3)

Our hive successfully made it to fall. The bees multiplied and the supers were full of honey. We opted to leave all the honey the first winter. The hive may not be strong enough to withstand extreme cold and we never know what kind of winter we will have. We fed the bees sugar syrup to ensure that they would make plenty of honey to get the entire colony through the winter.

Cautions When Working with Honey Bees  (Tips #4 & 5 & 6)

In late fall a hive check revealed that the bees had eaten a substantial amount of honey due to the fluctuation of warm and cold temperatures we had already experienced. For more on that story please read this post on Fall Checkup on the Hive.

Don’t go into the hive without the protective clothing on. Even if you think you will only  be a short minute.

Stay out of the bee’s flight path and do not block their entrance with your body. The bees get really testy about this issue. When they want to get to the door, please don’t block their way. This is an essential safety tip when keeping a honey bee hive.

The best time of day to do any hive maintenance is mid morning. Most of the worker bees will be out of the hive. The worst time of day to try to work on the hive is late afternoon. The bees are trying to return home!

honey bees

The Best Tip We Learned For Keeping Honey Bees (Tip #7)

My favorite advice that I give to anyone asking me how to start keeping a honey bee hive is to get a mentor. Even if your mentor is only available by phone, skype or other electronic means. A local beekeeper can add much to your experience because they are in the same climate as you and your bees. You will have questions as you go along and having a mentor is invaluable.

Year one was extremely interesting and we learned so much about keeping honey bees. Unfortunately, after a fall and winter that swayed in extremes in the weather, our bees died. They did make it through an early cold snap in the fall, which was followed  by a spell of very warm late fall weather.

According to a few beekeepers I spoke with, this caused the bees to think it was spring and go out foraging. When the honey bees returned to the hive, they were very hungry! The honey bees then ate all of the honey that should have been saved for the rest of the winter. The explanation makes sense in some ways. This year, we  will start feeding later in the Summer and into early Fall.

Let me know what challenges and success stories you have from your first year of keeping honey bees.

Tips for keeping a honey bee hive

You may also be interested in these posts on Bee Keeping

Installing the New Hive – Homestead Honey

How to Capture a Swarm of Bees – Homestead Lady