Bees · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

A Joyful Buzz

February 2019
February 2019

Our strategy of combining weak hives, even if that meant sacrificing queens, in late fall has paid off and we are going into February with 25 strong hives. We did lose one NUC that we were on the fence about. They hung in there until the below freezing temperatures last weekend, but sadly didn’t make it past the last 23 degree morning because the cluster just wasn’t quite big enough to keep warm. We were so close, and, if I could go back, I would probably grab the NUC and put it in the greenhouse for that last week of January! Ian Steppler stacks hives to retain warmth, and that is a strategy we thought about trying but simply didn’t get around to. Once again, we are reminding ourselves that we are closer than ever before to spending all of our time at the farm: we just need to get our city house on the market and sold and stop making that 600 round-trip drive to get it market ready!

drinking bees 1
Bees on bucket

I checked candy boards last weekend and was happy to see hundreds of little eyes starting up at me from sugar piles and bees bringing pollen in through the main entrances. Today, bees are removing spilled sugar from the hives. Does that mean they don’t need it any more, or is it just in the wrong place? I didn’t see much pollen coming in, but there are more bees than usual gathering water. I love the sound of contented bees, although I wish there were fewer of them sucking water out of the door mat on the front deck!

drinking bees 2
Bees on tarp

There are also signs of spring in the garden.   I was frustrated over the absence of crocus last weekend as I thought they should be blooming by now.  After all, that’s why I plant them!   Crocus are usually the first dashes of color, but the daffodils are leading the way this year.   I was happy to finally see crocus shoots this morning.   Clover seeded over the last three years is also returning, and one of the fig trees is about to produce its first leaf of the year.   I hope to see a good crop of clover flowers for the bees this year as most of our clover should be well established by now.  All-in-all, it’s pretty amazing to look back at pictures from three years ago and the progress we’ve been able to make in a relatively short time.

Talking of time, it’s flown by while I’ve been fighting my computer to edit and upload pictures.   It must be downloading another Windows update, because it’s apparently been busy doing things other than what I’ve wanted it to do!   I had planned to do some gardening this afternoon, but now I think I just need to close the greenhouse and let it start storing some warmth for the evening.   The cattle panel greenhouse has been a great success.  We are only using three light bulbs to heat it, and up until last week, even the elephant ears were still growing.   Our more traditional greenhouse did not protect plants this well.   We’re trying to see what we can do without running a heater, and so far, so good.  I am going to try heating mats under seedling trays this spring.  I’ll let you’all know how that goes.  Either way, we plan to add more cattle panel greenhouses before next winter as well as adding raised beds to the garden this spring.  

Life is good, and getting better every day!  

February 2019

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Relaxing · Supplemental Feeding

A Walk in the Woods

A view of the creek.

Over the past few days, we keep walking down to the bluff that overlooks the creek. It’s so peaceful there. Even though the water is up a little, there is still a soothing sound of water running over granite rocks. Add to that the sounds of a happy dog bounding through fallen leaves and the occasional bee flying by to get a drink, and it seems like the perfect place to have 50 feet from the back porch of the house. We plan to put a bench out there in the near future so that we can just sit and daydream together and maybe decide once and for all where the house will go.

My walk down there today started out as a simple pollen feeder check. Even though we have candy boards on all but two hives (one has lots of honey, the other we apparently overlooked), the bees are feeding heavily on the pollen and powdered sugar mix. On just one of feeder, they consumed 2 cups of mixture in an afternoon a couple of days ago. I love listening to their contented hum, which is really the main reason I wandered down there this afternoon. I took this picture, and the one above, and then the camera died.

Sometimes a dead battery is a good thing, because I wasn’t ready to go back inside and just meandered along the creek bank for a while and took in the beauty of my surroundings. Even though I called the dog, she kept going to all the places she expected me to be and therefore never found me. Once we reunited at the lower apiary, we walked that loop together and just had fun exploring.

While organizing the office feels only a little less overwhelming than before, the impromptu walk was restorative. Now I just need to narrow my focus to one stack or box of stuff at a time instead of staring at the chaos created when we moved clutter in here so that we could install the laminate flooring in the living room. Maybe I’ll take just one more short break in the now very tidy living room before I dive in……

Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary

News from the Farm – December 2018

Tomorrow is the last day of the semester and a student holiday, so today is a day free from writing lesson plans or updating grades and I finally have time to blog.   Even better, this is the first year since I started teaching IB that I don’t go into winter break with 40+ hours of grading to do, so it will actually be a break.   As with all new jobs, this one has brought good things along with challenges.  I find myself working more hours than last year, but that is probably more because I am teaching 9th grade for the first time in 7 years and am pretty much starting from scratch with planning what to teach them.    But on to the really good news…. 

Next semester, Hubby will be living full time at the farm and teaching in Georgia.    We are so excited, albeit a little overwhelmed with getting the house ready to sell and downsizing from 2400 to 760 square feet!     Eventually we’ll have a house half-way between the two sizes, but this stage of moving is making us think even harder than before about what we want to keep and what is simply clutter.    We already know that the new house will not have a dining room as in the past 16 years, we’ve used the dining room about 4 times a year — well, to eat in at least.  The rest of the time it became a junk-magnet.     

Back to Hubby’s new job.   He’ll be working at a school that is starting up a brand new JROTC program, which is incredibly exciting.   He did this with his first school, so we know he can be very successful with it.  His new school just added a new CATE (Career and Technology Education) wing, so he will be moving into brand new classrooms designed with JROTC in mind.  They even asked him what color markings he wants on the floor of the rifle range.    And yes, he has a designated space for the rifle team.   I already envision us back at nationals!

Magnolia grown from seed.

We have been able to make a lot of progress at the farm this fall with me being here to stay on top of the most important things.  We are going into winter with strong hives and looking forward to a good spring.   We didn’t pull any honey this year because we have no room to extract here and didn’t want to haul honey supers back to South Carolina, so almost all of the hives have plenty of resources.   When it warms up next week, I’ll add candy boards to hives that need them.  The relatively wet summer set the hives up for success and we did not experience any robbing, unlike last year.   Right now, I have two syrup feeders and 3 pollen/powdered sugar feeders out and all are busy, even though it’s not quite 60 degrees out.

Our big winter break project will be the workshop.   We were supposed to build it Memorial Day weekend, then over summer, then Thanksgiving weekend — the weather got in the way of those plans over the holiday weekends and getting the mobile home set up got in the way in summer.    It can’t wait any longer as we need somewhere to put all the stuff that’s currently in the garage as soon as the house sells.   Plus, as every beekeeper knows, winter is when the building and repair of hive equipment needs to happen.    I’ll be posting pictures of the build over the next couple of weeks.  

Well, Hubby will be showing up next weekend with another load of miscellaneous stuff, so I need to find homes for what’s in the plastic totes that I haven’t emptied yet as there’s no room in the office to put even one more box!    He’ll also be showing up with his clothes, so I have to stop using his closet as my overflow closet and decide what to donate to Goodwill!   I still can’t believe how lucky we are to call this place home.   Even on the exhausting days, life is good! 

Winter rye and clover

Hubby here: I’ve been long in getting around to blogging here myself, as life seems to be one challenge after another. Somewhere I read once that you must experience the rain in order to enjoy the sunshine. I feel when life rains on you, put on a rain jacket! I can see the sunshine of life on the farm, but currently I’m a city slicker hoping to get everything boxed and moved in time along with dealing with a multitude of potential buyers for all the “downsize” items. While I’m excited to move to a new chapter in life, as I look out the office window I can’t help feel a sense of depression to leave all the hard work behind that we have put in over the last 15 years here. The Magnolia tree that was shorter than the Missus when we arrived that is now nearly 45′ high; the garden swing that we built to enjoy the southern summer evenings; irrigation sytems, etc. etc. But I do enjoy the challenge of creating things and this move will give me more than enough challenges. A life in the military moved me every 18-24 months for over 20 years. This has been the longest I have ever lived anywhere my entire life. Even as a child we moved several times. But like the trees on our farm, as time goes on, I simply want to grow my roots deeper every day, enjoy the sunshine with its country beauty and when necessary sway in the moment when the storms of life pass by us. Well it’s time to fill more boxes and curse the fact that our city house has two floors to walk up and down to.  Five days and counting to becoming a beekeeper and farmer again.

Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing

Cattle Panel Greenhouse

Last weekend was all about curled hair and eye-liner as I gussied myself up to go to the school’s homecoming dance.   The DJ played a good mix of music, my students were all handsome / beautiful, and I had a whole lot of fun.   The students were very appreciative, and that made the evening even more special.   Of course, getting ready took up much of Saturday and recovering from a late night (anything after 9:30 is late these days) took care of Sunday — well that and the normal Sunday grading and lesson planning stuff.   I still hadn’t really recovered by Friday, and I was creaky and achey from sitting around too much all week, so I welcomed a day of walking, tractor driving, and construction yesterday.

Homeless plants
Plants on the move!

Apparently people buying houses in the city don’t appreciate beautiful flower beds that require lots of maintenance, so Hubby has been digging up and re-potting plants while simplifying our garden.    This is just a fragment of the things we need to overwinter and plant. We gave our greenhouse to a friend when we started getting the house ready to sell as we didn’t think it would survive a 300 mile trip, so we needed a new solution.  Hubby has been watching videos about greenhouses made from cattle panels — they are inexpensive, sturdy, and don’t take much time to build, so that became yesterday’s project.

Greenhouse 1
Planning size and location

He’d already done the math and knew what to buy, so, after a trip to Tractor Supply and Home Depot, all we had to do was put it together.   First we laid the boards out and then moved them a few times.  We’re both very visual people and just have to see whether we’re going to have enough room around anything we build.    Hubby then used the tractor to level the ground while keeping a slight slope to enable drainage.

The next step was to see just how much headroom Hubby would have.   With the original configuration of the foundation boards, he wouldn’t have been able to stand up and we’d have a lot of unusable space under the slope of the sides.   Reducing the width by just one foot made a much more usable and comfortable workspace.

 

Hubby cut the boards and created a nice, square foundation which we placed on top of heavy duty landscape fabric covered with gravel.    He hammered spikes into the ground to keep the foundation in place and then we started putting the cattle panels in.   We chose to overlap the panels by 4 inches to give a little more strength to the middle of the structure.    Cattle panels also have a section with smaller mesh at one end, and we made sure these were on the ends for stability.   We also made sure that the ribs that go across ended up on the inside to reduce friction on the plastic.    (That sounds so simple now, but it involved a lot fighting 12 foot lengths of panel!)

 

We secured the panels to each other with cable ties and covered the ends with plumbing insulation to protect the plastic.   Hubby then framed the supports and the door frame at either end and stapled the panels to the wood frame.   While he finished that up, I put the more delicate plants in the greenhouse with the least cold tolerant ones in the center.   We’ll plant some of them over Thanksgiving break, which will free up some room to get our shelves in and make the space usable for spring seedlings.

By this point, I was tired and hungry, so I abandoned Hubby and headed for the kitchen.   He managed to get the plastic over the frame without me — something I thought we were going to do this morning — and today he is finishing up the door.   He’s also decided that we need a window in the back — preferably an automatic one as today’s sunshine has turned our greenhouse into a sauna.

 

But for now, I have a place to keep the plants alive on frosty nights.   With the spring-fed creek on two sides of the property, we have frosts when the weather forecast predicts temperatures in the low 40s, and I’ve already had to scrape the windshield once this week.

As for the bees, I only saw about 30 yesterday, but today’s sunshine has them on the move again.   They are now taking an interest in the pollen substitute so I’ll be sure to keep the pollen feeders stocked.   I still have some pollen patties made with sugar syrup in the freezer, but I’ll save them for cooler weather as they tend to be beetle magnets.   I’ll also put a test syrup feeder out up by the greenhouse.  I don’t want to put one anywhere near the bee yard as I’m still seeing yellow jackets and hornets and don’t want to lure them into the apiary.   I think all the hives are able to defend themselves now that we’ve collapsed them down for winter, but European hornets might still be in the neighborhood and they won the battle with one strong hive this time last year.

It’s amazing how physical labor can make a mind and body feel so much better, but it does.   As teachers, we also don’t always see the results of our hard work for quite some time, so a project that we can actually finish in a weekend always does us good.   Even more than that — I just like working with Hubby!

Greenhouse 10
Finished Greenhouse

He just sent me one more greenhouse picture and the dog is so cute I just have to add it here before I go hit the books!

Life is good here on the farm, and I hope it is equally good where you’all are!

 

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary

Another storm?

With Hurricane Michael on the way,  it was fortuitous that the DMV was closed for Columbus Day today as that gave me more time to go through hives.   I checked 15 this morning, but that’s not as impressive as it sounds as a couple were empty.   One of those is the one I watched swarm right as I arrived home from work a few weeks ago.

Taking  advice from Beekeeping365 to heart, I removed barely used honey supers, both to eliminate space for hive beetles to run around and to lower the height of the hives in preparation for possible high winds Wednesday night.   We have one hive that had two deeps and 3 honey supers from which I was able to remove the top (very light) honey super, but the second one is too heavy for me to lift with it being so high up.   To make things worse, that hive stand is starting to tilt, so Hubby is making a quick trip down here to help me secure the hive.   He will probably drive fence post pickets in again and strap the hive down.   We wanted to split that hive a long time ago because it’s just too tall for me to check, but that’s one more thing we haven’t gotten to this very hectic year.

I was happy to see that none of our hives have beetles in the occupied boxes, so removing the unnecessary supers will allow the bees to put their efforts into preparing for winter.   Even better, I only saw one wax moth and it was dead and lying on top of a screen inner cover.   The bees appear to still be bringing in lots of Goldenrod nectar, but I didn’t see much pollen coming in today.   Every hive had a good stash of bee bread, but I only remember seeing a couple of bees per hive with pollen.

The bees totally ignored my watermelon slices yesterday, and I figured out where the bee that chased me away yesterday lives!   The hive has multiple frames of brood, so the queen is really strong, but her offspring are mean.   And curious….. one found a way into the wrong side of my hood, despite my  careful attention to zippers and Velcro.   I’ll wear the more dependable suit tomorrow while I see if I can reduce the height of a few more hives.    I really don’t want a driver’s license picture with a sting-swollen face.

Here’s hoping for a weakening of the storm as it’s predicted to dump more rain on areas of the Carolinas that really don’t need any.    I’m lucky to have had today to secure things around the farm.   If a hurricane has to pass through, it’s polite of it to do so when I have a day off to prepare.

Lazer Creek Apiary

Taking a Deep Breath.

Friday afternoon, a friend invited me to join her and some friends on a trip to the Cotton Pickin’ Fair in Gay, GA.    My first inclination was to say “No;”   It’s time to remove the Apivar from the hives and there are three hives I need to check for queens.  The weeds are encroaching on four other hives.   I have two unit plans to write, and I want to get a jump start on lesson plans.   Then it hit me:  I haven’t done anything fun since I started work on July 23.   True, we had the entire family over when our daughter was here Labor Day weekend, but I spent most of the afternoon in the office writing emergency lesson plans.   True, we spent most of last Sunday with Hubby’s aunt who was at our farm for the first time while visiting from Texas; then, after she left, I worked until 10:00 pm just to get ready for Monday.   So, I said “Yes” and spent a wonderful morning looking at arts and crafts and laughing with friends.   I could have spent thousands of dollars if I had them, but most of my purchases were small:  bee earrings for $5, a bee dish towel for $6, a bat house for $25 (more work for Hubby), and a beautiful Damascus knife for Hubby (something to offset the addition to the honey-do list).   Now, the knife was supposed to be a surprise, but my new bank wasn’t sure it was me spending money so I had to pull out the joint account debit card!   He got to see pictures of the knife last night and is impatient to get his hands on it next weekend.

mini-melon
Mini watermelon — this year’s harvest!

I did some school work yesterday afternoon, but spent this morning outdoors doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that.   While tidying up around one of the raised beds, I found a mini-watermelon at the end of a dead vine.   I like watermelon, but I was mainly growing these because I’ve seen posts of bees feeding on watermelon slices.   I quartered the softball sized melon and took it down to the apiary, but I have no idea of what they think of it because a persistent bee took immediate interest in my hair.   That may not sound like a bad thing, but the last time that happened I ended up with a bee behind my glasses, which was about the scariest bee situation I’ve encountered, so I briskly started to walk away and then commenced to jog.   If it wasn’t so late in the season, some-bee-body might be getting requeened about now!  (And yes, I did get stung right below my eyebrow last week, and, yes, I did look like I’d been in a fist fight for a few days.)

rosemary
Rosemary in bloom

After loosing the curious bee and returning to the vegetable garden, I was able to pull the rest of the grass from around the rosemary plants.   Some of them have recovered from being transplanted well enough to start blooming, and I was very happy to see bees on the flowers last weekend.   I’d love to have enough rosemary and lavender growing for it to have an impact on the taste of our honey.   That day will come…..

There were a few honey vendors at the fair yesterday, but I was disappointed to see no long lines at their stalls.   Cloister Honey out of Charlotte, NC was doing steady business with their infused honey, and my friend bought a gift package with vanilla, bourbon, and Tupelo jars.   I love the simplicity of the label on their jars, and their displays were simple to the point of being high end and clean while also being very inviting.   They had a single honey frame in a display case in the center of the counter.  The rich colors of the wood and honey stood out against the white counter, and there were just enough bees on the frame to draw attention to it.    Can you tell that they impressed me with their marketing strategies?   It’s so diametrically opposed to what we have been thinking of doing, and I don’t know that it fits our personalities, but I do like what I saw!

I have two days off for fall break, so I am looking forward to inspecting hives while it’s still cool tomorrow morning.   Then I’m off to get my Georgia driver’s license.    I’ve been warned that that may become an adventure as our closest DMV doesn’t handle many naturalized citizens……   Hmmmm – what’s the biggest adventure — a long wait at the local DMV or fighting traffic in the big city?   At least I’ll have Tuesday to recover — and register my car.   But it’s a beautiful day and the Goldenrod is still in full bloom providing lots of lovely food to our bees, so life is good.

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

What an odd year!

Beekeeping this year has been very different than the previous four years.  The rain and the tree-felling across the creek eliminated the usual summer dearth here at the farm, but the bees have been bringing in so much nectar they haven’t been converting as much as usual to honey.   It’s a good problem to have, in some ways, but the abundance of resources has corresponded to an abundance of wax moths and small hive beetles.   Our very first hive succumbed to wax moths before we even knew what wax moths were, and, up until 2 weeks ago that was the worst I’d ever seen.   Now I’ve seen worse twice and used once-beautiful frames as fire-starters.   Like us, my brother-in-law has been surprised by the hives that have been invaded as they were strong the week before they were dead.   Of course, it may be that they weakened because of a swarm, which is the other anomaly for us — fall swarms.

It’s been like spring out there in the bee yard as far as swarms go.   Well, maybe not quite like spring because the swarms are smaller, but the frequency has been surprising.   We’ve managed to entice most of them into new homes — some apparently wanted to upgrade while others wanted to downsize!   Last Wednesday’s swarm seems quite content in its NUC.

Deer
Not a great picture, but a great memory — a deer seen from our bedroom window.

Other fun stuff on the farm has been the sighting of a deer by the compost bin, huge deer tracks down by the memory garden, and a variety of other tracks that I am becoming able to identify fairly accurately.   I also saw the largest buck I’ve ever seen on my way to work on Friday — and it just stood on the verge and let me drive by, thank goodness.  I see plenty of deer that decided unsuccessfully to play Frogger along the 30 mile commute.

I haven’t been in the bee yard or much of anywhere this weekend my body has given up fighting the onslaught of germs that goes hand-in-hand with the start of any school year.  It’s been frustrating because there were so many things I had planned for Saturday, but instead I spent half the day at the doctor and the other half sleeping.   At this moment I feel better than at any time in weeks, so I will hopefully have some good pictures and real farm news soon.

Life in the country remains a joy.   I can’t count how many mornings I’ve been stunned by the night-sky and wowed by a beautiful sunrise.   And while I’m not a fan of thunderstorms, lightening flashing behind the pine trees is a thing of beauty.    The closing of Columbia schools this week gave me an extra couple of days with Hubby, so life is, as always, good.