Lazer Creek Apiary

Record Harvest and Honey Soup!

We were unable to harvest honey last year due to my illness, but we came out of the winter with some very strong hives. We also lost an above average number of hives to wax moths, but, given the circumstances, we are not beating ourselves up over that. Between those strong hives and the been exceptionally good weather for nectar this spring, we had to pull our first batch of honey mid-April because so many hives were honey bound. Luckily a friend came to visit over my spring break, and we promptly showed her how to decap frames and crank the extractor! That week yielded 2 5-gallon buckets of honey. While we usually wait until after the sourwood bloom to harvest, our hives ran out of space again before the sourwood even started – even the ones with three honey supers — so we pulled honey again last week. If the sourwood produces well, we may even pull a third batch.

It was hard work, but such a joy to work in our new honey kitchen. The concrete floor is coated with a resin finish and the walls are washable – even with a pressure washer if that ever becomes necessary! We have a commercial sink and plenty of space. For the April batch of honey, we placed the decapping station in front of the sink so that we could set the hot knives down on the draining board. Well, that didn’t work too well for those who are right-handed, and I was occasionally at risk of melting the power cord. Luckily Hubby planned well and I was able to switch to a different outlet, but reaching across to the sink was still awkward. We’d also partially blocked access to the sink, making hand-washing a challenge.

This time, we moved the honey keg down (table – front right), and set the decapping station up between it and the extractor. That worked much better. I decapped 9 frames, loaded the extractor, and then decapped the next 9 before spinning the honey out. While I spun, the knives cooled, and I was able to wash them before starting on the next batch. It was so nice not to have honey-coated handles! (That may sound obvious, but in the small spaces we had before, the workflow was even more awkward than it was in April.) We used the metal trays I have for curing soap under the hive boxes, and that helped tremendously with cleanup — the bees were quite happy to do the dishes for us!

The only problem on Friday was the extractor’s center support ring for the frames broke off in one of the sections. We bought the extractor from a lady who gave up beekeeping 10 years ago, so who knows how old it actually is. It has served us well. Hubby found the company that purchased the original manufacturer on-line and ordered a new ring, but he temporarily used two food-grade bucket lids and some food-grade screws to stabilize the section just to get us through this batch. It worked! We want to buy a motorized extractor as soon as possible, but we’ll keep this one as backup even when we decide to spend all that cash! Hand-cranking a honey extractor is a young person’s game, and this year’s harvest was a lot of work. Not that we’re complaining.

I use wax from honey cappings for craft projects like soap, lotion bars, and candles. All of the wax we process passes through multiple filters, but anything that goes on someone’s skin or into their house only gets the fresh was from the top of honeycomb.

Of course, after a record honey harvest, we have a record amount of beeswax to process. This is when I make honey soup! For the first round of processing, we simply heat up some water in a large pot (we use the one that came with a turkey frier) and dump all the cappings in there. Wax melts at a lower temperature than water boils, so it doesn’t take much heat for the wax to separate from all the other stuff — any remaining honey, and debris. You can also put your cappings into a mesh bag so that all the solids stay in one place – see this article for more information about that. Once the wax has melted, I simply put a lid on the pot and leave it to cool down. The cooled wax ends up at the top of the pot with honey and water below. I then run a knife around the top of the wax and remove it – but after the water has cooled all the way down.

Even though I don’t boil the wax and water slurry, it still warms up enough for bees to start hearing the dinner bell! However, they are far more interested in what’s cooking than in who is doing the cooking, so they are rarely in a mood to sting. Just to be safe, I wear the hat with a veil while cleaning wax outdoors. Face stings are never pleasant and bees that are overly excited by the smell of a free meal tend to get tangled up in my hair!

We’ve discussed buying a commercial wax-melter, but they are expensive and wouldn’t be here in time anyway. The big advantage would be that we simply dump everything into one tank and then draw off the layers of honey, water, and wax. This would not be honey that we’d bottle, but people do sell it as cooking honey. I’ll probably try it in some jam recipes…. We’ll take a look at just how much wax we deal with and the cost of the equipment when life slows down a little.

For this year, I am purchasing a far smaller wax melter which will make filtering and heating small batches of wax for crafts much easier. Up until now, I’ve been using a double-boiler on a hot-plate to melt wax to filter and then to use, but that is a tedious process. So the big rounds of wax that I just separated will stay as they are until the new equipment arrives and then I’ll let you know how using it to filter goes!

If you have a large piece of wax (like an 8-inch cake) and you want to break it into useable pieces, freeze it. Then put it into a strong garden trash bag and hit it with a rubber mallet. It will shatter into smaller pieces.

And if you have beeswax – they make the best candles! Check out this article to see some of the benefits of beeswax candles over less expensive varieties. I prefer to leave the ones I make unscented, but I may play around with adding some dried lavender to the wax melter to add just a hint of natural fragrance. If you see me waiting at the gate for the UPS truck to arrive on Thursday, you’ll know I just want to get started on some new candles!


House of Horrors part 1

If you’ve been following our blog – apologies for the long absence – you know that we finalized our building plans a while ago but had to delay construction during the building boom. It wasn’t just the cost of materials – contractors kept putting us on the back burner as they could make more money on the huge houses many people wanted. Quite a few people are choosing to commute rather than live in the metro Atlanta area, and that drove demand up for a couple of years.

So, then came my cancer diagnosis (incurable lymphoma)….. I no longer wanted to wait for a usable kitchen (or get jerked around by any more contractors), so I convinced Hubby to go look at mobile homes. We found one that felt (feels) like home and looks like a real house. The dealership was selling the lot model, so we could get moved in very quickly.

We closed on the house before Thanksgiving and had high hopes of being in our new home by Christmas or at least over Christmas break. Now some of the delays that followed were due to heavy rain, but not all. There were unnecessary delays in getting the foundation in, and then further delays getting the house here. The house was finally delivered at the end of December. Meanwhile, Georgia Power was also dragging their heels, which didn’t help matters.

Eventually we had electricity and lo and behold – we had no power to the laundry room or the master bathroom. In addition, when the water pressure test was done, water started pouring out of the bottom of the home. The factory (Live Oak Homes) sent out a maintenance guy who showed up after dark with a flashlight and no tools after driving 5 hours. He said the electricity issue was probably a GFI outlet somewhere and he couldn’t look at the water problem in the dark, and promptly headed back home. On Monday, he discovered that the installation crew contracted by Wayne Frier Homes of Byron had not hooked the shower up to the sewer lines, so any water running into the shower ran straight into the insulation below the house and stayed there until he cut the protective membrane. His plan was to plumb that and let the insulation just dry out on its own over time — a plan we said “Heck no” to — or words to that effect. There was an additional water leak in the line going to the shower valve and the shower valve would not turn off. That required cutting a hole in the master bedroom wall.

A week later, we had multiple holes in walls, ceiling vents hanging down, a rats’ nest of electrical wires hanging down outside from the frame of the house, a huge (insert profanity here) mess throughout the house, but still no electricity in those rooms. At that point we insisted that a licensed electrician come inspect the house and diagnose the problem. The electrician came on Tuesday, took 40 minutes to find it, and two hours to fix it. (He installed a new three wire Romex from the breaker panel, under the house, and back up to the light switch). The factory could have saved themselves a lot of money by sending the right person from the start, especially as the maintenance guy never seemed to actually be onsite for more than 3 hours at a time. Oh – and the problem ended up being a missing neutral wire going from the breaker to the light switch in the laundry room. I’m not sure how you end up with a run of wire without a neutral, but the factory managed it!

Now the second crew that came in to do regular maintenance stuff was fantastic (more about them in a future blog), and they fixed the holes in the wall from the above fiasco, but they ran out of paint. Here’s an example of what has frustrated us in the extreme over the past three months – the dealership and the factory couldn’t agree on who should pay for the darn paint. Meanwhile, we had patched walls and were already close to paying our second mortgage payment. We ended up buying a gallon of paint — for $14.95 and I painted! The last time we heard “That’s a factory problem” was two hours ago — no, the house is still not fixed.

The first crew that came in to do the initial sheet rock patching etc. did a fairly good job of the walls, but when they left we had a speed bump going through the kitchen. Eventually this turned out to be a problem with the front half of the double wide being half an inch higher at that point that the back half — or so we thought. This is an installation issue, and after many, many, many phone calls, the leveling was resolved a couple of weeks ago (6 weeks after delivery, or thereabouts). The first crew tried to mask this by piling what looks like sheet rock mud over the join to create the speed bump and then gluing the floor tile to that. Surprise, the surprise, the floor tile popped off on both sides. Never mind, that we don’t really need a speed bump (trip hazard) going into the kitchen. The installation supervisor FINALLY came out today, and in addition to the floor leveling problem, a board the factory installed along the marriage line sits above the subfloor. Now there are hammer marks along the way where crew one tried to beat this board into submission, but the misalignment increased toward the pantry end of the kitchen. This is when the supervisor announced “That’s a factory problem” this morning. We are waiting to find out who will fix it and when. We know it’s going to require sanding at a minimum, and that will require cleaning….. I can’t tell you how many hours we’ve spent wiping shelves, blinds, ceiling fans, walls, etc. down after multiple rounds of repairs.

We’re also still waiting on the installation of the underpinning….

Other smaller construction issues include at bathroom water faucet without a drain plug, another with a drain plug that wouldn’t close, doors that wouldn’t close, a bathtub valve that didn’t let any warm water through, vinyl tiles with gaps between them leaving subfloor exposed, missing sheet rock in a closet, misaligned sheetrock behind the fridge, and a dryer vent that is jammed up against the washing machine instead of being behind the dryer space making it inaccessible. If you’re interested, here’s a link to Hubby’s blog with pictures.

To close — will this house be worth it eventually? Yes, we still think so. It overlooks the creek and that is where I go when I need to calm my mind as I deal with my diagnosis. I am doing well enough post-treatment to have a positive mindset 95% of the time, and when I do have to repeat treatment, I’ll be able to look out the window at the beautiful place with which we have been blessed. What would we do differently if we could go back in time? First and foremost, check the Better Business Bureau rating of any home builder, whether it be a modular home or stick built. Do a quick Google Search. Doing either of those would have sent us in a different direction. I let my emotional turmoil get in the way of good sense while I was still weak from treatment, and Hubby let his concern for me and big heart get in the way of asking me to be patient. I met this wonderful, wonderful, man 21 years ago today. So while the house has brought a lot of stress into our lives, as long as I can look at the creek with Hubby by my side, life is good here on the farm.

Construction · Relaxing

Finally, I have a new goal!

I am going to make an Adirondack chair! Finding this new goal has been a journey with lots of ups and downs, but I am excited to have finally picked something well over a year after having completed my last one.

The plastic chairs we have overlooking the creek are so comfortable, and years ago a friend of mine made one from shipping pallets. I thought about trying to make one then, but the move to the farm and all the work getting to the point we are made me put it on a back burner. But I did feel lost without working toward something for myself that wasn’t work related.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a goal that I was working toward until after I took my Beekeeper Certification Exam last year. I was just so tired and keeping up with work around the farm was all I could handle. I just knew I would feel rested before school started again. But I didn’t.

By the end of May, I was so exhausted, I did nothing other than go to work and collect eggs from the chickens. And that didn’t get any better as summer went on. In July doctors finally figured out what was going on and my 18 month decline finally had a name. Now I am halfway through treatment and starting to feel more like myself again.

Now, after diagnosis, I came up with a rather superficial goal of defeating a bully who plays on an opposing team of my current video game! That was a goal, but not a satisfying one. And this goal is creative and not vindictive. This new goal includes learning more than just basic woodworking skills and sticking with it until we have a chair that we can sit on. After that, I’d like to make at least one more. We have lumber that my brother-in-law milled from trees we took down to clear a space for the house, so I won’t be using shipping pallets, and the chair(s) will be even more special because they are a product of the farm.

What a difference having a goal in life makes! We all need something in our lives besides work and chores, and this is my new “something”. Watch out for more updates. I’m back, and plan to blog frequently again!

Life is good, especially when we are sitting in our plastic chairs overlooking the creek and discussing the steps toward my new project.

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Bees in weird places

Bees in staging area

What a difference a day makes. Or a few days….. We checked half of our hives one weekend and there was so little nectar that I started open feeding again. Then it rained. Then the weather turned warm. And all of a sudden, our hives are nectar bound and bees are off looking for new homes. We knew it was almost time to add honey supers, so we staged boxes under the lean-to, and the next day, a swarm moved in. We relocated them this past weekend – four boxes of bees and about 20 pounds of nectar. They accumulated that in four days. We have since captured another 8 frames of returning foragers. We gave them a frame of open brood to work with and we’ll see if they are making a queen for themselves tomorrow.

I was at home yesterday waiting for delivery of a new washing machine, stepped out onto the front porch, and saw another swarm staging on the front of a hive we just checked on Sunday. Again, they went from having plenty of free space to being nectar bound seemingly overnight. I pulled frames of brood out of the hive, put them in a 10-frame and hurriedly swept bees from the front and sides of the hive into it. I put them on the neighboring hive stand, turned in the opposite direction, where they appear to be quite content. I checker-boarded drawn comb and brand new foundation into the existing hive, and added another brood box just in case. The bees that were still outside marched back in and started rearranging the furniture. I went back to our house and continued rearranging my furniture so the delivery guys had a clear path to the laundry room. By the end of the day, all of us were happy!

Even though we went through all of our hives last weekend, we are going back through them tomorrow. This nectar flow is wonderfully heavy. Hubby has caught 3 swarms this week in addition to the two already mentioned. We have at least one hive that swarmed without us knowing it since Sunday. As always, it’s a balancing act between giving the bees enough space while making sure they don’t have too much empty space to defend from predators.

Life is good, as always, on the farm, albeit a little busy right now!

Chickens · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Pests - General · Products and Vendors

Happy Thanksgiving, 2021

French Apple Tart – Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

We have so much to be thankful for this year, as always. We have just started our 6th year as the owners this beautiful property and we continue to make progress. Our mobile home now has brick underpinning, the honey kitchen is framed in the workshop, and even more blackberries have been cut back. We also have official building plans. Like so many other people, we are now waiting for an available electrician for the honey kitchen and an affordable quote for the house, but we have a roof over our head, jobs, and good health.

As always, the tiny kitchen made baking the French tart challenging, and I spent a lot of time wishing for my new kitchen while getting ready for Thanksgiving meals. We are both trying to focus on our progress and not give in to the frustration of trying to get tradespeople out here! But we have a forever-house in our future and a small deck overlooking the creek that is perfect for day-dreaming about the view from the back porch of the house in due time.

Our somewhat rainy summer this year led to a record honey harvest. We were able to pull spring honey at the end of May and then summer honey when the sourwood trees stopped blooming in July. We are also going into winter with hives that have good stores of goldenrod honey. The two locations that we seeded with nematodes over the last few years now have minimal small hive beetle issues, and the new NUC yard has been a good experimental control as the hives there have been inundated with the pests. We’ll order another batch from Arbico in spring and get that area treated as well. Also, we have not had a single wax moth problem all year, which is cause for celebration in itself as those larvae and so disgusting and even the chickens won’t eat them.

The chickens are another blessing, although with 11 hens we have been somewhat over-blessed with eggs this summer. Now that they days are shorter and the two older are girls recovering from a molt, the number of eggs in manageable. We still have plenty to give to friends and family, but part of that is because we just simply needed a break from scrambled eggs for breakfast every morning!

I hope that life is as good for you, my readers, as it is for us here on the farm. I love the day after Thanksgiving, because the cooking and cleaning are done and I have time to look back through old blogs and see how far we have come with this wonderful adventure we are on. Now I need to get outside, take the dog for a run, and appreciate the farm from the other side of the office window!


Little Green Eggs

Eggs from Red Sex Links and Americana Chickens

The new chickens are finally laying! Hubby found the first green egg – it was smaller and rounder than the ones in the picture and more of an army green color than the pretty teal ones I found today. The eggs grow in number and size every day and, unlike the brown eggs, the color permeates through to the inside of the shell. We are certainly going to have plenty of scrambled eggs for a while!

Another difference we’re seeing with the Ameraucana chickens is their ability to fly. Cocky, our rooster, can fly vertically from the ground to the roof of the chicken run where he struts his stuff and calls out to the world.

I was awake very early one morning and could hear him crowing before the sun was up. It’s a good thing that we no longer live in a neighborhood. The vote is still out on whether to keep him or not as he is aggressive toward the hens at times and is starting to bow up at me when I come close — and at the dogs, the golf cart – pretty much anything that invades his territory. He does, however, back down from the mature hens who very much put him in his place. For now I’m assuming this is a case of teenage hormones.

The Ameraucana hens also like to roost in the rafters of the chicken run. That may be in part because the old hens didn’t want to share the coop at first, but the hens are going in there to use the nesting boxes so maybe that will resolve itself soon. Of course, it’s still incredibly hot so they may just be more comfortable sleeping outside. Some nights I think I would be!

So life continues to be busy and very, very good here on the farm. I’m not sure how we’re going to get everything done when I return to work, but we’ll keep muddling through until retirement!

Lazer Creek Apiary

Beach Vacation!

Savannah Sunset

Well, this isn’t a beach photograph, but it is from our first stop of our journey – Savannah, Georgia. At the end of the school year, we realized that we hadn’t taken a vacation since we bought our land almost six years ago. We spent three years driving between South Carolina and Georgia every chance we got and then three years trying to get the land and the apiary where we want it to be. But we’ve had a lot of rain this year — good for both honey production and plant growth, bad for keeping the grass and weeds under control. So we decided to just escape the farm for a few days.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. We bought a nice dog kennel and then found out it wouldn’t be delivered until after Hubby went back to work. We ended up hiring someone to bring it here and then added a chain link enclosure for the dogs to roam around it. Of course, the big dog (the escape artist) managed to break through the chain link gate within the first hour. We reinforced the gate: she broke through a corner of the fence. We reinforced that: she went to another corner. Then they both tried to tunnel their way out. We put some hardware cloth down around the perimeter of the fence and they dug that up. I ended up buying some paving slabs to block the digging at the gate and we left the next day. Our wonderful neighbor ended up reinforcing the gate with some of the hardware cloth and then blocking the gap under the kennel. Only the small dog managed to wriggle her way through that exit, but still….. They have been doing better with going in the run when we leave the farm for short periods now that they know we’ll return.

Still, we spent a wonderful afternoon and evening in Savannah and even took the riverboat cruise that I’d been wanting to take for years. We were so relaxed and didn’t feel tired for the first time in years!

The next day, we drove to Tybee Island to see The Savannah Bee Company and then up the beautiful Highway 17 toward Myrtle Beach. We spent two wonderful days with our long-time friends, walked on the beach, and went to Brookgreen Gardens twice. Our friends, of course, introduced us to the latest picks in restaurants and we enjoyed a nice variety of food.

From the beach, we headed back to our old hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. Hubby drove past our old house and we still don’t miss it at all. I still don’t understand why they cut down the blue spruce Christmas tree, but it’s not our house anymore. In fact, the whole yard now looks like boring builder grade plantings, but I guess that’s a lot easier to maintain.

The best part of our visit to Columbia was seeing the beautiful house our daughter and future son-in-law bought. I think it would have been my dream house when I was their age – and before we started thinking in terms of downsizing. They have a nice sized yard that is very private and beautifully landscaped. While it has already been hard work, they are both enjoying making the house their own.

We finished up our trip with breakfast with our son-in-law’s parents. We could have sat there all day and chatted with them had we not all had other things we needed to do! We did a little city shopping before heading back to our little slice of heaven. We do so love it here, but we have realized that we sometimes need to see something different!

For our final hurrah of the summer, we went to Calloway Gardens for a second short trip away from farm life. The spa there is luxurious and we got great massages and then just relaxed and day dreamed. There’s a restaurant in Pine Mountain we’ve said we’ve wanted to try for a couple of years, and we finally made it there too. All round, it was a good break for Hubby between teacher in-service and students.

Me — well I have another week or so before I go back to work, so I’m spring cleaning, bee keeping, and gardening. I also went to yoga yesterday and realized I should have been going all summer! That reminds me – I promised myself that I would take time away from digital devices to stretch every day, so that’s what I’m going to do!

So, while life is good on the farm, remember that all of us need a change of scenery once in a while. Whether you take 5 minutes or 5 days for yourself, just make sure you take a little time every day.