While checking our recent buckwheat and sunflower plantings, I noticed a plant that we’ve assumed was Devil’s Walking Stick covered in bees and other pollinators. Most of these shrubs/trees on our land are inaccessible, but this small one is right next to a trail. Bees were zipping from one flower to the next in a frenzy while gathering a dark-ochre pollen. There were no bees on the same plant when I went back with Hubby after supper or a few minutes ago, even though pollen is still visible.
The lack of thorns on the stem is the first give-away that this is not Devil’s Walking Stick, and the non-serrated edges of the leaves is the second.
Hubby’s research last night provided mixed opinions about sumac honey, but as we usually leave fall honey on hives, we probably won’t get to form our own opinion this year. Quite a few beekeepers also recommend using sumac seed pods as smoker fuel as it calms bees. Now we just need to figure out how to get through all the blackberries to harvest enough seed pods to test that theory. One beekeeper also reported a reduction in mites after using sumac-smoke. We’ll have to fight our way to at least a couple of trees once seed pods form. Once again, what bees appear to like or not like depends on the time of day and for 3 years we’ve been around these trees when the bees were not visiting.
The buckwheat that Hubby sowed last weekend is already sprouting, so we should have buckwheat nectar in a few weeks. The buckwheat will hopefully crowd out some of the weeds that are bound to attempt a come-back while also improving the soil. Once fall temperatures arrive, we’ll mix some clover seed in so that we have a perennial nectar source in those areas. We’re impatiently waiting for the sunflower seeds to sprout. We were late planting them and they are very popular with the local birds right now, but at least that area is prepped for next year.
Something that we’ve noticed about the lily pond is that it is teeming with bees any time a swarm is present. Once the swarm is settled, pond activity returns to normal. Now that we’ve put two-and-two together, we’re going to start looking up if we see unusual numbers of bees gathering water.
The current high heat index is making it a little easier to stay indoors and let my neck and arm heal, and the golf cart allows me to spend some time in nature when I just have to get off the couch! Life is good, and the dog days of summer at probably the best time for mandated laziness!
I know, a doctor telling me to eat more butter sounds too good to be true, but I’m back to dealing with a pinched nerve in my neck and a little saturated fat like coconut oil or butter will help my body restore the myelin sheath around that angry nerve and get me back up to speed. I was about to say that it all started three weeks ago, but that isn’t true — all those high stress days and sleepless nights set the stage for me to lift something wrong after my tricep had been slowly losing strength. What happened three weeks ago was just the result of missing a lot of warning signs. I don’t know what I did, but I’d been working the bee yard in the morning and then I woke up in pain in the middle of the night. A trip to the first doctor yielded meds that dulled the pain but didn’t solve the problem. Luckily a friend recommended someone else and I’ve been making steady progress for a week now. Still, it’s going to take a little while for me to be lifting honey supers again…..
In the meantime I need to practice patience, dealing better with stress, and paying attention to what my body is saying. Yep, any of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while have heard that before, but the long-term prognosis if I don’t change my ways is even more of a wake-up call than three weeks of constant pain.
On to the good stuff:
The lily pond is a great success and becomes more popular with bees daily. It’s such a joy to watch bees on my flotation devices and on lily pads, even if I have to occasionally rescue one with a lemongrass blade. After we set up a similar pond in the city, we caught swarms on a regular basis and that is starting to happen here, too. The sound of running water attracts bees and solar fountains create just enough splash to make me and the bees happy. We had our first water-lily flower last week and there is another bud surfacing today.
Hubby drove back to the city a couple of weeks ago and returned with two of the kittens that our daughter needed to find homes for. They have been such a joy already and now follow us everywhere, when it’s not too hot. While they are almost identical in appearance, Grayson is far more adventurous. They keep Maggie busy by bringing out her Catahoula herding instincts. Once she has them corralled, they even let her lick them and she lets them play with her tail. See, it is possible to herd cats!
One huge bonus to being couch-bound much of the day is that I have plenty of time to re-read the books I assigned for summer reading while taking detailed notes. I always intend to start that process early, but most years I end up speed-reading in the last week before school! I even have lesson plans written. Once I get my classroom organized, I’ll be setup for a low-stress start to the school year. I’m really excited about my new school, but glad I have a week or so to heal before the year starts. On the other hand, I’m so impatient to get started because the students, parents, and faculty I’ve met so far have all been so nice. Hmmm, what was I saying earlier about learning patience?
My shoulder is letting me know that it’s time to put the laptop up for today. I’m so happy to be able to get back on the computer, and, of course, to be able to add butter-flavored coconut oil to my veggies without feeling any guilt for a little while!
The Sourwood trees (nectar source) and Devil’s Walking Stick (pollen and nectar source) are on the cusp of flowering, and last week bees were not interested in pollen substitute or sugar syrup, but now they are ravenous waiting for late summer blooms to start. We’ve noticed a recent decline in resources stored in hives and queens have slowed down laying brood, so they and we knew the dearth was coming.
We’ve had a lot of success with Bee Pro pollen the last two years. I have four pollen feeders out around the farm and each needs to be refilled at least once a day. Two feeders are covered, and I only use the uncovered trays in times of high demand as the bees don’t like it as much once it turns to mud during our afternoon thunderstorms! As you can see from the above picture, I need to refill feeders before foragers are out and about and estimate how much they’ll consume before the rains come. There’s no way I’m getting between them and what’s on the tray without a bee suit, and there would have to be a better reason than that to suit up in 100 degree heat! However, despite the recent weather forecasts, the rain hasn’t even moved the rain gauge even though thunder has sent us indoors the last few days, so little pollen substitute has gone to waste.
We’ve moving away from open feeding syrup as we only want to feed our bees and not every nectar-sipping insect in a 5-mile radius. Hubby is setting up the tank for first time use: as it is set up in the picture, the pump will cycle syrup to keep the sugar and water well mixed , and it will also pump syrup through the red hose into a smaller tank that sits on the ATV or golf cart. The smaller tank has its own pump, so we’ll be able to easily refill internal feeders or feeder pails. That will be a big improvement over loading up gallon milk jugs and liter soda bottles with syrup in the kitchen and driving them around to hives we are already feeding. For one thing, it will keep me from spilling sugar all over the kitchen floor!
We’ve had some robbing problems when internal feeding late summer in the past, so we’ll have to keep hives strong enough to fend off invaders when using division board feeders. We have some entrance feeders to use with weaker hives, but we don’t want to block entrances completely in this heat. As with everything else, supplemental feeding is a balancing act and I’m glad that I’m home during much of summer to keep an eye on things. We merged a couple of weak, queenless NUCs into other hives this week rather than risk them dying while trying to defend a feeder.
Hubby has also been researching beneficial sunflowers as another July pollen and nectar source. We placed some hives on a neighbor’s sunflower field a couple of years ago, and the hives came back with no resources and sick bees. Apparently it’s good to know what kind of sunflowers you’re looking at. Bee Culture reports that sunflower pollen is beneficial for bee health, but other sources report that some sunflowers produce a sticky substance in which bees can become stuck which reduces the number of field bees. As the aforementioned hives had surprisingly few foragers, we’re guessing our neighbor plants sticky sunflowers! We’re going to plant some Lemon Queen sunflowers as articles consistently recommend them for bees. We may even try to plant some this year….. or maybe not as another thunderstorm just moved through without leaving a drop of rain.
As always, natural food sources are the best and supplemental feeding means we won’t pull any honey even if we think it was stored while nectar was still flowing.
All this thinking about feeding bees has made me hungry, so I guess it’s time to head into the kitchen and prepare something for us. We were both so tired after planting 30+ shrubs and trees yesterday that we didn’t eat a real supper, but more about that another day.
According to Hubby’s spreadsheet, 50 hives going into the spring nectar flow is the magic number at which the apiary will become financially viable, based on honey sales alone. We weren’t there at the start of spring this year, and probably won’t harvest any more honey this year as we’re letting our hives keep their nectar to build reserves for the dearth, but with the three splits I made yesterday, we do now have 50 strong hives.
Hubby has been working on new hive stands in a sunnier location than our first site, and the above three splits are the first occupants. We want to move all of the hives from the first site because small hive beetles thrive in the shade there and the hives are too close to the planned house site. Contractors may not be as thrilled as we are to watch bees head to the creek or fly around making orientation flights! Before the big migration, we want to get carpet remnants under each stand to make life difficult for small hive beetles. We already have quality landscape fabric along the whole run because it’s more fun checking hives when you don’t have to fight blackberry vines while doing so!
Talking of checking hives, I only have four left to check for this round, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to make some more splits. But my back hurt this morning, and it was hot and humid, and I just couldn’t face suiting up! What’s the best (productive) thing to do on a hot humid day? Well, pressure wash hive components and paint! I repainted some wood ware last week, and most of what was left just needed a touch up on the hive numbers, so today was a low pressure day. When we have a bunch of hive components that are all the same color, you can be pretty sure Hubby used the paint sprayer. When we have a mixture, I hand painted. We need the balance between efficiency and variety otherwise we’d run out of hive bodies. Well, I need the variety — I love to look out at a colorful bee yard.
I can also rationalize a multi-colored bee yard because it reduces drifting. Even when we have a number of similar hives, I try to paint the hive numbers in a variety of colors and add designs that help the bees find their ways home. I have to admit that what drives me most is the joy of making things pretty. Hubby and the bees don’t seem to care that I only ever took one art class in high school or that my flowers rarely look like anything found in nature. Hubby likes to see me happy, and sometimes that means painting pink flowers, and sometimes it means designing a database!
My other summer project has been an Access database. Our Excel spreadsheet for tracking hive inspections was becoming too cumbersome, so I gave Access another shot. That I got nowherewith Access the past two summers says a lot about my stress levels back then as almost everything is falling into place now that I am relaxed and rested. That brings me a different kind of joy than the colorful hives, especially as it’s proving useful. Hubby asked me how many active NUCs we have last night, and I was able to tell him with just a few mouse clicks, so he kept throwing questions at me! I was able to answer almost all of them with minimal effort. There are still a number of reports that I want to develop, but they won’t be a chore as I love exercising that side of my brain sometimes.
Life has been especially good this week as Hubby didn’t have to work at his day-job. We are so blessed to be surrounded by so much beauty. We have a constant supply of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons, and the garden will be even bigger next year. Life really doesn’t get any better than this!
We’ve made a few changes this year which have led to stronger hives. We did complete inspections on 75% of the hives at the end of last week and saw maybe 20 small hive beetles in total. Since moving here, we’ve seen that many in the lids of the hives in the worse corner of the apiary, but even the two we have left on that hive stand are pretty much beetle-free. We add Beetle Blasters as soon as we see beetles on the frames, but we know from previous years that there’s only so much they can do.
The first thing we did was treat the hives with ProDFM in spring. A little goes a long way and I was able to treat more than 10 hives with the 3.5 ounce bag we bought to experiment with. Most hives got off to a good start and started packing in pollen and nectar as soon as it was available. We tried a different strategy on the hives that were slower to get up to speed.
Following Ian Steppler’s methodology, we swapped (and continue to swap) a lot more frames from strong to weak hives. We’ve always done that, to an extent, but this year we focused on leveling the hives and delayed making any splits. That really paid off in the long run, and the splits we made later in spring were more successful. When we came across a hive that was really weak, we did a newspaper introduction to a hive that had space for a frame or two more bees. Again, the short term loss of one hive led to bigger gains in the future.
We are now setting splits up with more bees and resources and are seeing them quickly coming up to speed. We’ve moved underpopulated 8 and 10 frame hives to NUCs and we’ve used internal feeders as place holders when we think there aren’t enough bees to manage a full contingent of frames.
Back to beetles:
After watching some of Barnyard Bees’ videos about chickens and small hive beetles, I was ready to rush out and buy some game hens and laying chickens, but we don’t have time to build a coop or a run. Between the coyotes, the eagle, and other assorted critters, we need to protect any fowl we bring here.
David talks about chickens and small hive beetles in a few videos — chickens just love the larvae. In one video, he dumped out a bunch of bees in the chicken pen and let the chickens go to town on the beetles — and they didn’t mess with the bees. He also recommended setting up bug zappers to manage wax moths, so we purchased a Black Flag zapper and see dead wax moths on it every morning. Once we get power to the shop, we’ll add at least one more.
If you go to Barnyard Bee’s YouTube channel, also check out David’s video about why some swarms contain multiple queens — it explains why we found two queens out in the open in the lower apiary on Sunday. Yep, Hubby has converted me to a YouTube watcher!
We moved honey extraction to the RV this weekend and pulled what we expect to be our last harvest for 2019. The biggest advantage of being in the RV was being able to turn the a/c off there and leave it on in the house. After extracting 5 gallons of honey using a manual-crank extractor, it sure was nice to have a cool place to go drink some water before going back to the 90+ degree space for cleanup.
While the hives are currently full of nectar, we are about to go into a dearth and the bees will need what they’ve stored. After the dearth, they’ll need to build up stores for winter during the Goldenrod flow, so we’d have to see a lot of excess honey to pull any more this year.
We actually thought we were already in pollen dearth as we didn’t see any pollen coming in during evening inspections. However, we found some common sense, stopped suiting up when temperatures were in the 90s, and went back to checking hives in the morning; suddenly we saw lots of bright yellow pollen coming in.
There is plenty of bee bread and pollen on frames. We’ve known for years that we are more likely to see bees on buddleia and buckwheat before 10:00 a.m. and on fennel in the evening, but we needed a reminder that we can’t judge a colony by what is going on in five minutes on one day. But we also know to anticipate a pollen dearth before a nectar dearth in July.
Our bees have the luxury of a spring-fed creek very close to the hives, but they still too often decide to risk drowning closer to home! They are especially attracted to splashing water, so they naturally like my lily pond. It will be safer once the water lily leaves cover a wider area, but for now I made life rafts out of pool noodle slices. They are able to drink water that has wicked up through the cells as well as drink from the pond itself. There have been no drownings so far. I cut between a quarter and a half in slices and then joined them with yarn — joining them together was more to keep the wind from blowing individual slices all over the yard than anything else.
Well, the sun has dried the heavy dew off my freshly painted bookshelves, so I’m going back out to see whether I need to sand and start over or just keep painting. Impatience got the best of me again, but I just had to see if the paint really looked as pretty on my classroom furniture as it did on the card!
We have already been amazed by the vibrant colors and the length of bloom time of our daylilies here in the Georgia clay. This morning, the first Crinum Lily that we transplanted from the city bloomed, and it is also a deeper pink than it ever was back in the sandy soil of Columbia, SC. (Even deeper than it appears in the picture.) These transplants are from our son-in-law’s grandmother’s garden, so we are very excited to see them thrive. We also have some Wedgwood blue bearded iris from her garden, but they did not bloom this year.
We also found the plant-tag scrap book from Columbia, so we should be able to identify the daylilies we bought sixteen years ago. For the first time, they look like they did in the catalog and are all blooming at the same time. I periodically throw some Miracle Grow on that bed, but nowhere nearly as often as I did in Columbia, so they must just like Georgia better, even with minimal fertilizer. May was extremely dry and many of our plants appeared to be hanging on for dear life, but then everything burst into bloom when the June rains started.
Of all the transplants (other than us), Maggie is certainly the happiest. As of this morning, we are a two-golf-cart family, so she now has her pick of chauffeur driven vehicles. When the woodland smells become too enticing, she dismounts and heads off on the trail of a rabbit or deer. We saw two deer while cruising around after a thunderstorm yesterday, and she ended up showing off her tracking skills while getting incredibly muddy.
The first golf cart has been so very useful for hauling equipment to the bee yard and potting soil to the garden, but it came to the point where it was always being used by one of us when the other needed to haul something. Our increased productivity made adding to the “fleet” worthwhile, especially with the ever increasing number of hives to manage. We received fantastic customer service at Golf Rider in Peachtree City for both carts as well as a better price than ones we’d looked at online.
One advantage of the golf cart over the ATV is the accessibility of the bed; not only is it lower, the tailgate can be dropped, so I can lift relatively heavy things on there. The other advantage is the wonderfully quiet electric motor. The new cart even has a USB charger, so I can keep the phone going when I record hive inspection information.
Well, afternoon thunderstorms will start rolling in soon, so I am heading off to battle Japanese Beetles and other critters that like our veggies just as much as we do. We found our first pink tomato this morning, but something else found it first — I don’t plan to let that happen again!
It’s June 9, and we’ve already surpassed May’s 3.9-inch rainfall total; most of the rain has fallen in the last three days and there is more to come. My heart goes out to all of the people who were already living with floods and certainly did not need this rain, but at the same time I am grateful that our Georgia drought has been somewhat alleviated.
I took advantage of a break in this morning’s rain to take the honey-covered blossoms from my lavender-infused honey outside for the bees to clean up and heard a roar of bees coming from the cucumber bed. It wasn’t quite loud enough to be a swarm, but it was far louder than usual — about the volume of a small hive. Lo and behold, bees of all kinds were taking advantage of the blossoms that were sheltered from the rain and still had nectar to offer. One bedraggled bumblebee was even hanging upside down trying to dry off. The fennel in the background of the top image has been a big hit with the bees the past few days, but it got knocked around in the 60 mph gusts the other day and we’re worried it may not recover. Likewise, about a third of our corn was flattened, and the tomato cages were knocked askew. We’ll try to stand all of these back up once this weather system passes — our efforts between downpours have been futile!
We’re a couple of days away from tasting our first lemon cucumber. The one in the bottom right frame is about half the size of the ripening one. I checked the big one yesterday and it’s still green. According to High Mowing Seeds, lemon cucumbers are edible but crunchy when light yellow and at their best right before turning the color of a lemon. I’ll be careful checking anything in that bed from now on as the biggest millipede or centipede I’ve ever seen hitch-hiked it’s way back into the house with me! I just tried to identify which type it is, but just looking at the pictures makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It doesn’t help that the thing either bit or stung Hubby when he came to my rescue.
(Hubby was kind enough to look it up for me. It was a centipede and they do inject venom when they bite. However, they eat soft-bodied insects such as spiders and aphids, so they are welcome in the garden, just not in the house.)
Maggie has been doing better with this round of storms. She doesn’t shake anymore or insist on being held like a lap dog. However, she does “hide” under her duck when the going gets tough! Right now, she’s wandering around checking out all the new smells and is quite content to be outside without her humans. She’ll be even happier if we grab the golf-cart keys and head out to join her — one more cup of coffee and we’ll be out the door until the rain drives us back inside.