Supplemental Feeding

What I’ve learned while making fondant for bees

Let me preface this post by saying that I know some of these things should be painfully obvious, but I hope that some of my readers are, at times, as distracted as I while trying to do many things at once — like playing SimCity while cooking.

Lesson 1:  Respect the capabilities of your equipment.  Five pounds of sugar cooks quite nicely in my largest pot and cools quite nicely in my mixing bowl.  A few weeks ago, I tried to make a 7 1/2 pound batch.  The time I spent trying to get the sugar up to temperature while not letting it boil over ended up making the process take longer than it took me to make two, 5-pound batches today.  I was able to start cooling the first batch in the mixer while bringing the second batch to a boil.  Five pounds of sugar yields around 9 each 6″ small paper plates full of fondant, and each hive eats 4 plate fulls in 3 – 4 days.

Lesson 2:  Paper plates work well, especially the small, 6″ size ones.  We can fit four plates to a hive.  We have a spacer between the brood chamber and the super so that the plates fit without letting in cold, winter air.   Only two dinner-size plates fit in the same space.  I’ve tried making fondant on baking trays, but it ended up a soupy, sticky mess that wouldn’t hold its form, which is why we switched to plates.   However, today we poured a batch onto a wax-paper covered cookie tray, which leads to lesson 3.

Lesson 3:  If the sugar mixture goes above “soft ball” on the candy thermometer, it is likely to set up very quickly and very hard.  If you notice the fondant getting hard when it is still hot, get it out of the mixer (or, worse, saucepan) quickly.   My first or second batch of fondant turned into a giant sugar-cube in the bottom of my pot in about 30 seconds while I was searching for my pan.   However, you can add water and slowly bring up to a temperature at which the sugar will dissolve again to get it out of there.

Lesson 4:  Drape your counter tops with beach towels!   The YouTube videos we’ve watched all seem to feature organized people not making a mess in their kitchens,  but hot fondant drips.   It’s so much easier to throw towels in the washing machine than to dispose of newspaper.  We like to recycle, and I don’t think anyone wants us to recycle sugar-coated newspapers.  Plus, you can drape the towels over the edge of the counter for added protection.  I guess you see why I blog instead of making YouTube videos.  Plus, no one (except maybe my husband) wants to watch an old lady dance to “I Love Rock and Roll” while stirring boiling fondant.

Lesson 5:  Hot fondant burns about the same as hot wax.  If you get some on your hand, remember which faucet is the cold water and which is hot.  It doesn’t help to run hot, hot water over hot fondant.   This is why many people recommend using oven mitts, but I don’t like wearing gloves unless I have to — like when I pick up the hot mixing bowl.  There’s a time and a place for everything, but stirring the sugar water while wearing gloves doesn’t work for me.

Lesson 6:  If you take the plates out to fill the hives, the bees will find them (and you) in about ten seconds, especially if you’ve added Honey B Healthy or essential oils.   If the fondant is soft, it’s easier for the bees to digest, but not good for hugging to your chest to keep the bees off.    If you do end up with a t-shirt covered in fondant, head indoors quickly and make sure none of the bee-knee babies is following you!

Lesson 7:  Don’t be surprised if the bees eat your paper plates.   We weren’t, because my brother-in-law had the great idea (and I don’t mean that sarcastically) of leaving notes about how many frames had what on them in the hives, but when he went to show my husband his system, there were no notes in the first three hives.  The half-eaten index card was proof of his sanity — a big relief to us all.

Lesson 8:  Softer fondant is easier for the bees to digest, and as we’re giving this to them when nature is making life difficult for them, my goal is to get the right consistency.  However,  if it turns out “wrong,”  the bees will eat it anyway.   Too soft, and it will absorb water from the air and turn to syrup.  “Too hard”, and it’s easy to stack, store, and transport.  Don’t stress about it.   If the fondant ends up just right, we can’t stack the plates, but we’re fine with our dining table looking like we’re expecting the Edgar-eating roach from Men in Black to come for a tea party and the plates of sugar never stay there long.

Lesson 9:  It’s worth the time and effort.   Bees are stupid and will go ice-skating on a bucket of sugar water when they are hungry.  Our bees are out and about when temperatures rise above 45 degrees, but the buckets take a long time to warm up and often have ice on them until mid-afternoon.   I’ve been experimenting with ways to let them wet feed without becoming hypothermic, and may have one successful method.   I’ll blog about that once we’re convinced it actually reduces bee loss.


Construction · Farmers · Lazer Creek Apiary

Thinning Trees

While we are hesitant to lose our privacy, we know that our trees are overcrowded and therefore not healthy.  We could probably have left them alone for another year or two, but as we need egress for the power company and a space on which to start building our cabin, we decided to have the trees thinned now.   Heathier trees are more able to withstand pine beetle attacks and thinned trees will grow faster the remaining trees have less competition for nutrients.

This is a good time for us to thin as we will not have to deal with having the heavy equipment and tree branches once we start living there — whether on a permanent or vacation-only basis.  We plan to mulch all of the trimmings, although we realize all may be an unrealistic goal!   We just think about how much mulch we were able to generate from one downed Bradford Pear tree a couple of years ago and envision a thick mulch carpet under the power lines along “Bee Lane.”   A little voice keeps telling me that there are going to be more branches than we can possibly grind up over spring break and that those branches are ideal hiding places for snakes, but I’ll put on my snake boots and we’ll do what we can!

We have heard some horror stories about more trees being removed than agreed upon, damage to land, and missing hardwoods when “only pines were harvested.”   We strongly recommend using a certified timber harvester and asking neighbors who they would recommend.    Our harvester, Scott Smith, was recommended by many people that we and our brother-in-law know and we have  not heard a single negative comment.   Scott originally came out and tied pink tape onto trees to keep in a small section of our land so that we could see what his recommended thinning would look like.  We liked what we saw, so, before his team showed up, he painted every tree that is to remain and painted boundary lines where the harvesters should stop, which is especially important to us as the land transitions to hardwoods as it nears the creek.    We walked our property boundary on Saturday — something we had planned to do over winter break but could not do due to the incessant rain.  We looked at the marked trees and tried to envision what our land will look like by the end of this week.  We found some more springs, some amazing boulders, and a couple of open areas that will be perfect for planting our seedlings.    Our long-term plan is to transition the land to half pine, half hardwood, but our plans are constantly evolving so may change again in the next five minutes — or at least after we see what the land looks like.

I headed straight back to the city on Monday, but my husband took a side-trip to see the harvesting in progress.  He got to see the first load of trees leave our land and took pictures of the harvesting process.  The way he described it, the man running the loader was able to snap a branch off with the grapple on the loader  more accurately than I can do with my little chain saw!   He was simply amazed at the skill and efficiency of the team.    We did not realize that they would even out the loading deck and driveway with a bulldozer to make their lives easier, and we are very happy with that added bonus.

I know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we will take a load of daylilies with me spring break and start to turn the loading deck into a garden.   We have already taken our leaky RV and turned it into a home, although we may not be able to move it to our land until summer.  The proceeds from the trees should be enough to pay for electricity and a well.  Our home site is more visible from the road now, but we know we are heading in the right direction.   The dream is becoming a reality; life is good.


Magnolia Seedlings December 2015

A few months ago, I soaked and peeled magnolia seeds and placed most of them in the vegetable drawers of the bee-supply refrigerator as I read that they need to undergo months of cold temperatures before they will germinate.  I planted some directly in seed starter pots and left those outside the greenhouse to naturally go through the seasons.  Apparently they don’t need 3 months of cold temperatures. The tender seedlings that sprouted in our abnormally high temperatures last week would probably not survive next week’s temperatures without the shelter of the greenhouse, but the few cold nights we’ve had this year followed by temperatures in the high 70s were enough to get them growing.   While only one in the above picture has obvious leaves, two others are about to unfold leaves today.

I pulled the containers out of the refrigerator and dumped all the seeds into an aluminum pan which I placed in the greenhouse.  Two of the containers were bone dry and one had a patch of mold on top, so leaving the seeds out in the elements is clearly the better option for someone like me who doesn’t remember to check what’s in the refrigerator in the house, never mind the one in the garage with the bee supplies!

I know I’m placing a lot of faith in the greenhouse, but we’ll see how well it fares this week with predicted record lows and two light bulbs burning in there overnight.  The day time high in the greenhouse only reached 64 degrees today and the magnolia seedlings are not supposed to germinate until temperatures reach the high 70s, so I don’t expect to see 50 seedlings pop up in the next day or two!   I really am far too impatient to be an effective gardener, but sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised — as with the 30 Goldenraintree seedlings that are still thriving.   School starts again in two days, so I’ll be too busy to check the greenhouse five times a day.   As well as the plants did without me for the past 10 days, I’m sure they can grow without me watching them!

RV rehab

RV Rehab – December 2015

I added a date to the title of this post because I doubt that our initial round of repairs will be our last!   We got a great deal on a used RV, but there was clear evidence of leaks, especially in the bedroom.  When we took the mattress out, we saw just how bad the plywood below was damaged and moldy.   I still spent the first day cleaning and we ended the day with a bug bomb to reduce the lady bug population!

That night, it rained.  And rained.  And rained.  The next morning, the bedroom was flooded, so we started to dig a little deeper.  The ceiling panels in the bedroom were not caulked to the walls and there was water in the light fixture.  We took the light fixture down and water poured onto the floor.  My husband started to take the ceiling panel down and ended up dumping a whole lot of water on himself.  At that point, we decided to take the ceiling and back wall down.   That led to taking the useless corner closet and nightstand out, and, with the closet gone, the floor started to feel like a trampoline with worn-out springs.  So, out came the walls and floor.  The wall panels did not match the rest of the RV, and we found out that was because someone had simply attached them over the old damaged ones.  The floor was the same story.  Continue reading “RV Rehab – December 2015”


Star Gazing

Sometimes you just have to stop what you are doing and gaze at the stars — or, in this case, at the full moon.  We have been incredibly frustrated over the constant rain and the subsequent delay in our projects, especially when Weather Bug keeps telling us that there is a zero percent chance of precipitation while we are listening to thunder and watching sheets of rain increasing the size of the puddles all around the property.

One night, I ran outside at 1:30 a.m. to put rolls of insulation back in the cabin during one of those “zero percent” downpours.   Needless to say, I was tired and cranky the next mornings and thinking of an early night for most of the day.  But my brother-in-law (BIL) headed outside to enjoy the warm evening after supper and shortly thereafter came back in to tell us about the incredible full moon and the clarity of the stars.  The view of the night sky always amazes me out here away from city lights, and that night was spectacular.  I didn’t need a flashlight as I wandered about the property trying to capture the magic of the night with a camera.  Up until this moment, I didn’t even think about the creep-crawlies that may have been running around my feet or dangling from trees.   (BIL’s story that he told earlier this evening about a huge spider dangling from the brim his cowboy hat one time is probably what made me think about such things now, at 4:00 a.m.  Thank’s BIL!)

There was something magical about the intensity of the full moon and the clarity of a plethora of stars that night that I couldn’t capture on film.  The peace and awe felt is in no way diminished by the limitations of my camera and the time I spent out there that night will sustain me through the second half of the school year.  Sometimes we have to stop to gaze at stars when things get in the way of our goals and sometimes we have to stop and gaze back at memories of starry nights when responsibilities feel overwhelming.  I will hold on to the memory of an incredible night-time walk in the woods to get me through those stressful times.