Apiary · Bees · Gardening · Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

The Colors (and tasks) of Fall

20191109_Grass
New grass and clover planting with expanded blueberry patch behind – Fall 2019

Plants

The weekend before the drought ended, I turned the soil in the remaining compacted section of the timber company’s loading deck and we sowed a mixture of annual rye, fescue, and White Dutch Clover.  The rains came, and we have lush green grass with an under-story of clover over a few acres of recently cleared land as well as on the deck.  More importantly,  we have eliminated the erosion problem that has plagued us for almost 5 years now.    Oh – and by cleared land, I mean Hubby pushed back some more of the undergrowth between trees so that we could have more room for clover and fewer thorny plants.

We lost one of the magnolia trees planted by the gate in the drought, so when I’ve finished my coffee and this blog, we’re going to plant some camellias and gardenias on that side of the gate so that we have evergreen plants of a manageable size that are beautiful in spring and summer.   I was able to bring some gardenia cuttings from South Carolina, but was unable to get any cuttings from the camellia plants to take root.   By the time we finish that, it will be warm enough to continue getting the bees ready for next week’s cold snap.

20191110 FeedersBees

We constantly had problems with leaky lids (mainly when I put the lids on) when we used bucket feeders, so we’re trying open feeding with our internal feeders right now.  The hives I checked yesterday have a good deal of nectar, but very little bee bread.   We put the pollen feeder back out a few days ago and the bees are hitting it almost as hard as the syrup feeders.   The pollen feeder was a great success during the summer dearth and it was easy to clean up once the fall blooms started.

I went out to refill the syrup while it was still cold enough for the bees to be indoors this morning, but it was not cold enough to intimidate the yellow jackets, so we had to add yellow jacket traps around the feeders.   Those guys irritated me non-stop last weekend while I was applying a  non-skid paint to our ice-rink of a deck!

Hubby was at work yesterday, and the small syrup tank was empty, so I rustled up some bravery and started the gas-operated pump to cycle the syrup in the large tank and then fill the small tank.   Well, it didn’t look like anything was happening once I got the motor started, so I pulled the exit hose out to take a look.  It’s a pretty powerful motor, so once the hose was out (and, yes, the syrup was moving), it wouldn’t go back in.  One sugary shower and a change of clothes later, I got syrup transferred over and had to evacuate the area because every yellow jacket and bee from a  5-mile radius appeared to show up for a free lunch!  I suspect I still have syrup in my hair.

A couple of week ago, I read a blog by Ron Misha about winterizing hives.   He mentioned that his father used to hang a piece of burlap out of the hive lid to wick moisture out of the hives in winter.  We have a roll of burlap, so I am trying that.   We’re going from a record-breaking warm October to lows in the 20s this week, and the hives have more nectar than honey in them.   We’ll add candy boards going into December, but this weekend is all about getting the bees through the coming week.   I combined the weakest hives I came across yesterday and shook bees into others that will struggle to stay warm.   I’m still rebuilding strength in my arms and hands after this summer’s neck problems, so I did not get as far yesterday as I would have liked.   However, the good news is that I stopped when I noticed that I was getting clumsy because my hands were tired.   Sometimes it’s good to be stubborn and push through, and other times it’s better to apply common sense.

I was going to write about some great changes to our landscape and our renewed indecision regarding where to place the house, but I think that needs to wait for another time.   It’s way to pretty outside to sit at a computer for hours, especially when bad weather is going to keep us inside for the next few days.  Stay happy.  Stay warm.  And remember that life is good on the farm!

 

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Back in the hives and in the kitchen

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

I finally received the go-ahead to start cautiously lifting some weight aka hive lids two weeks ago, so I’ve checked hives I was concerned about and, sadly, burned a bunch of mothy frames.   When we made the last round of splits, we knew we’d have to monitor them closely and keep the division feeders filled, but then Hubby got bronchitis and I was still dealing with my pinched nerve, so neither of us could do what needed to be done.   It’s prime wax-moth season, so they decimated a number of those weak NUCs.

20190930_Goldenrod
Goldenrod

Still, it’s not all bad news.  Despite a very dry month, the Goldenrod is blooming and all the healthy hives have large bee-bread and nectar stores.   We had a strong Buckwheat nectar flow from before the Goldenrod kicked in and the queens are currently ramping up brood production.   If there’s anything good to say about “near record-breaking heat,”  it’s that it gives the bees more time to prepare for winter.   We finally have lows in the 60’s overnight, but continue to have highs in the 90’s with no rain in the forecast.

More good news is that there are very few small hive beetles in the new hive stand location.  We seeded the soil with nematodes from Arbico Organics a couple of months ago and very quickly saw a difference.   (The lower apiary has as much of a problem as ever.  It’s too close to our planned house site, so we’re moving everything out of there soon.)   We used nematodes from Arbico years ago back in the city to get rid of grubs in our lawn, and we plan to seed some to combat Japanese Beetles along with treating around other hive stands in spring.    This recent batch of nematodes was so well packaged that they survived being left at the gate in the direct sun all afternoon thanks to an unnamed delivery service!

This time I’m wearing gloves…..

20190930_jalapeno
Jalapeno

Despite the lack of rain, our single jalapeno plant continues to provide more jalapenos than we can eat.   A friend of ours makes the best jalapeno jelly, so I’m using our overabundance to get much needed practice.

A few weeks ago, I included one chopped one jalapeno in a tomato salad, then rubbed my itchy eye about 2 hours later.  WowIt hurt.  I was scared I’d damaged my eye.  I remembered to flush with lots of water.  If it happens again, I’ll jump in the shower to flush with more water.  I don’t plan on letting it happen again.

Hubby later explained to me that I had pretty much experienced what tear gas is like!   So, when we seeded the 12 ounces of peppers for the first batch of jelly, we obsessively washed our hands before and after — many, many, times.  I guess it helped, but it wasn’t a solution!    Internet tips say rubbing with alcohol removes the oils and bathing in milk removes the burn, but wearing gloves in the best bet of all!   Eighteen ounces of peppers await and I have a pack of 50 gloves in the kitchen drawer.

The jelly was good, but the texture was a little off.  I didn’t realize that powdered pectin is added before sugar but liquid pectin after, and the recipe didn’t make that clear.   We’ll see what happens today.

What I am doing blogging and cooking on a Monday?   Well, Georgia schools have the option of teaching longer classes and reducing the number of days, and that is what we do.   I think it’s hugely beneficial to students, especially those who have been fighting the same upper respiratory illness that Hubby and I had and need some time to just catch up.   My current school does a great job of keeping absenteeism in check, and that is a essential piece of the longer days = fewer days option.   A short break also allows me to get caught up, research some new material to teach, and take care of those routine medical checks that seem to increase with age.    Wow — I think school, and my writing styles morphs back into “teacher” — it’s time to go for a quick walk around the hives and get my “farm-girl” back!

Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

Fall Nectar Flow

20190908 Buckwheat
One of three areas planted with buckwheat

While temperatures and humidity remain unbearably high, the fall nectar and pollen flows are on.   We’re lucky to have a spring-fed creek running along two sides of our property as our evening and night-time temperatures are lower than the local average and we have heavy dew every morning.  We’ve had a very dry week, but even areas that we don’t water remain green.  The Goldenrod currently looks unimpressive, but that will change as temperatures drop and we hopefully get some rain.

We planted about two acres of buckwheat a few weeks ago, both to provide nectar and to improve soil in areas that we had not yet tilled and/or had recently cleared.    We water it most days and this crop is the most impressive yet.   On weekends I get to water it early in the morning which helps the nectar flow:  by 9:00 a.m., this morning, the fields sounded like one big, happy bee hive.  We have sunflower seeded in with the buckwheat and will sow white dutch clover once it actually feels like fall.  Buckwheat is used as green manure and will provide nutrients and moisture to the clover seedlings.

20190908 Bee on Buckwheat-COLLAGEI saw pollinators that I don’t remember ever seeing before and quite a few that are regular visitors on the blossoms today.  A large variety of butterflies passes through almost year round, and carpenter bees are a permanent (and unwelcome) fixture.

There are two bugs that I really don’t like right now (well, three, if you count the aphids all of my tomato plants, especially the one that hitch-hiked a ride into the house last weekend):   one is the Tomato Hornworm and the other is the Assassin Fly aka Robber Fly.   Because of my neck/shoulder problem, I’ve been neglecting the tomato plants.  As a result, I caught (?) / picked (?) 20+ hornworms from my tomato plants and ended up throwing away an equal number of munched-on tomatoes.  The biggest worm was larger in length and width than my middle finger and the only way to dispatch them is to drown them in soapy water.  Yuck!    Well, I guess other people could squish them or attack them with garden shears, but I haven’t reached that point yet.  Drowning works quite well, as long as you don’t forget the soap.   (Yep, I forgot one day and they all crawled back out of the bucket.)

20190908 Assassin FlyThe Assassin Flies like to hang out by the lily pond and I find it very upsetting to see one cradling one of my honey bees like a baby only to suck its brains out!   Luckily there are fewer of those around.

But let me end this with good news:  I made it through two work days without taking any pain killers after breakfast two days this week.    The doctor says my left tricep is “still weak as a kitten” and my right isn’t much better, but the nerves are healing.    He’s added some exercises, and of course my Sleeping-Beauty muscles are just as cranky as I am when the alarm clock goes off now that they are being woken up!   Healing isn’t always comfortable, but I am healing, and that’s what’s important.

It’s a beautiful day and life is good on the farm!

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Sumac, not Devil’s Walking Stick

20190814 sumac
Bees on sumac

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.

20190815 lily
Water Lily

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!

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Relaxing

Doctor’s orders: eat butter!

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.

20190812 cats
Grayson and Raylen

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!

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

2019 Pollen and Nectar Dearth

20190720 Pollen
Pollen substitute

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.

20190720 Syrup Tank
Water tank for sugar syrup storage.

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.

 

Bees · Hive equipment · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees

50 Hives and Counting….

2019-07 New Hive Stands
New Hive Stands – July 2019

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!

2019-07 Painting
Painting for fun and function.

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 nowhere with 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!

2019-07 Lily Pond