Bee Rescue/Removal · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

Bees in Trees – 80 feet up!

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After an hour or so, the bees were down on the ground.

Sometimes it seems that bees know just when I’m wearing a dress and heels or when we have ice-cream in the back of the car after a grocery run — they just know when to make swarming more of a challenge for us.   Then I have to think back on the swarm that moved into an empty NUC while I was checking bees last fall to realize that maybe we just remember the inconvenient swarms better!

This swarm initially looked like 4 smaller swarms, but it turned into one of the biggest swarms we’ve had.  We last inspected the hive on Sunday.  They had barely started working the honey super and we made a split to give the queen open frames to lay fresh brood, but by Friday they had the honey super about 30% full, multiple frames had hatched, and they were still storing nectar in the brood boxes.  Even with the bees in the trees, the hive was still rocking it!   The nectar flow is good this year, and we need to recheck some other strong hives again as soon as the coffee kicks in this morning.

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Some bees flew even higher up into the tree

The swarm was pretty high up in a pine tree, so it took some brainstorming, which included discarding crazy ideas while building upon them, to get the branch down.   We even very briefly considered chopping the tree down!  Hubby managed to drop the swarm right onto the tarp we’d laid down with multiple boxes on it.   We’d baited all of them with Swarm Commander and I’d put a frame with nectar, brood, and bees from the original hive in the 10-frame.  After they’d recovered from the fall, they started pagenting in to the 10-frame and one of the NUCs.   Some of them returned the tree, just higher up than before.    They spent the night out there, but they are still alive and kicking!

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This morning, bees are checking out the swarm-capture hives

After a while, we shook the remaining bees from the tarp into the 10-frame and just crossed our fingers.    Now that’s it’s warmed up, bees are migrating down from the tree to the two capture-hives.   Of course, we won’t know for a few days whether they are just regrouping in preparation of another escape attempt or happy in their new home, but we consider this capture a success, an adventure, and a wonderful example of how well Hubby and I work together.

We both took one sting each (for swarming bees they were relatively well-mannered) and the anti-itch salve I made from a Beeswax Alchemy recipe worked wonders.   It was the first time we’d been able to try it on a bee sting — I’ve wanted to know if it works for a long time, but not enough to intentionally get stung.    I’m not so sure that the soap I tried last week is turning out as well, but it is the most complex soap recipe I’ve tried yet.   More about soaps, lotions, and salves next blog….

 

 

Bees · Chickens · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary

Rain break

The chicks are rapidly outgrowing their space, and moving them outside to the dog kennel so that I can clean their indoor home is becoming more of adventure with every passing day.    The baby can now fly out of the cattle trough, and the bigger girls can fly out of the plastic crate I use for transport.  Moving them is no longer a one-man job!    Luckily Maggie is just fascinated with them and wants to herd them like she herds everything else and she’s smart enough to realize they are not new dog toys!   The chicks are becoming accustomed to being handled and one is eager to be picked up when she hears dried meals worms in a Dixie cup.   That’s a trick I learned from my sister-in-law; she has her chickens trained to follow the sound of worms in a plastic Dixie cup, which they love even more than my gifts of chickweed and tender dandelion leaves.

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Chicks April 1, 2020

Wax moths had moved into one of our swarm capture hives, so the chicks got a treat of larvae in a bowl followed by a couple of bee frames to clean up.  They enjoyed chasing small hive beetles and I enjoyed watching!    I kept an eye on them to make sure they weren’t eating anything besides the wiggly invaders.  After three minutes, I had clean frames to put in the freezer and maybe reuse later this week.

This week is spring break, so Hubby has been able to make good progress on the coop and chicken run.  We’ll move the girls into the coop once we have the door on and then we’ll finish up the run.   It started raining today while Hubby was adding rafters to the run and I was painting the screen door, so we ended up with a non-construction day.   We both have indoor chores to catch up on, and it’s probably good to give our bodies a break too.

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Chicken Coop

While we currently plan to have a maximum of five chickens, Hubby is building the coop large enough to house more because we’ve learned that our plans are always changing here on the farm.    We may eventually have enough honey and wax products for sale that we’d have a market for eggs too.   I made my first batch of glycerin-honey soap last week and plan to attempt my first batch of soap using lye later this week.    When we harvest honey this year, I need to weigh the wax we refine from cappings to get an idea of how much beeswax soap etc. I can make.    So far, I’ve been using wax from previous years for my experiments, and I don’t plan to make any products with purchased wax.

Hubby just arrived home and announced that the only self-rising flour he could find came in a 25 pound bag, so I guess that I’ll be spending more time than usual baking over the next few weeks!    Even if I bake a cake every day until it’s safe to socialize again, we’ll be eating healthier than we have been doing.    It’s amazing how far we’ve slipped back into our “city” eating habits since the start of the school year.    It takes very little time to make a pitcher of red rooibos tea, but we’ve been drinking sodas for the past few months.   Likewise, I used to eat scrambled eggs for breakfast and they take no longer that Toaster Strudels, but we slipped into a Toaster Strudel routine.   I didn’t realize how many convenience meals we were eating until I noticed how often I was running the dishwasher now that I’m cooking from scratch again!     I hate that it took a pandemic to get us to rethink our eating habits, but that’s also a very small piece of silver lining in the huge cloud that is hanging across the world right now.

Life remains good here on the farm, and our thoughts and prayers are with all our friends, family, and blog-readers in this scary time.

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing · Supplemental Feeding

December Time Warp

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Clouds – Thanksgiving 2019

December 21 is not the ideal time to discover that I actually only have 5 have Christmas cards in my desk drawer instead of the anticipated full box.  I guess I didn’t buy my normal stash on clearance at the end of last year.  Or maybe I did, and they are in some weird place.    Despite my best intentions, I still have not yet organized my side of the office since we moved the big desk in here.   When was that?   Sometime in the past 6 months, I think…..

Then I received a text message to remind me of a follow up appointment with my doctor.   Has it really been two weeks since I was there?   Is the new blood pressure medicine doing it’s job?  There are more questions than answers in my head right now.

The good news is that yesterday was the last day of school until January 2 and maybe I can find my missing brain cells over the next two weeks.  The weeks since Thanksgiving have been as hectic as any other school year for Hubby and me, but we have been less stressed than in years past.   We’re determined to put a Christmas tree up in our 13 x 13 foot living room this year, and Hubby is on his way to the storage building to see if the one we have will fit.   Not only did we go from 2400 square feet to 740 square feet, we went from 10 feet ceilings to whatever they are in this mobile home.   I know the ceilings aren’t high enough to risk installing a ceiling fan, but how tall is the tree we’ve had for years?

It was warm enough to check hives and add some candy boards last week.  Some of the hives we were concerned about now have enough bees to ease our minds, and adding a little sugar for cold, wet days should help them make it until spring.   We’re not adding a large quantity of sugar this year as we ended up with a wasteful mess last year.  Now that we’re living here full time, it will be easy to add sugar as needed.  We seldom go for more than a couple of weeks without at least one day above 60 degrees here, so we have a huge advantage over beekeepers to the north.   We are also keeping the pollen feeder full of pollen substitute mixed with powered sugar so that the bees have something to find when they insist on foraging.   I went to check the feeder this morning, and bees were already on it despite the 50 degree temperature.

The November swarm we caught is even doing well.  There was only one frame of bees the day after they moved in, but they now have three.  Maybe more bees showed up after that first day, or maybe the queen was determined to bump up her numbers.  It was not a good time of year for them to swarm, but luckily they did so on a day when I was in the bee yard.   There’s so much logging going on around us that we suspect they are wild bees whose home was destroyed.    Maybe they are even renegade bees that swarmed away from us sometime in the past and have now come back to where it’s safer and there’s a buffet set up!   Either way, we’re always glad to add to the genetic mix.

Well, I need to run to the store and buy whatever Christmas cards I can find and then get busy doing what I always intend to complete Thanksgiving weekend!   More about the bee yard later…..

 

Bees · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Missed (photo) opportunities

I have the most amazing commute and wanted to take a picture of the fall colors, but on the perfect days to take a picture, I was running late.  When I was on time, the light just wasn’t quite right.  Then we had that night with below freezing temperatures….

A couple of blocks before my school, there were two brilliant yellow trees with a scarlet tree between them.  One night of cold, windy weather dealt with that pretty picture.  Still, there’s a permanently beautiful view across the valley from the crest of a hill by a cattle ranch.  Clouds roll across the creeks and the sky is often a brilliant blue, even right after sunrise.   Even though I don’t have pictures to share with you, I see the views clearly in my mind and they bring me great joy.   Those views also inspired me to buy a 2020 calendar featuring the Cotswolds in England — one of my favorite places that has similar terrain to where we now live.   (Talking to high school friends on Facebook has been making me homesick!)

The commute home is almost as beautiful, but the long-range views are missing.  Then I pull into our driveway and see our land.   Between the two commutes, I spend the day enjoying teaching and being with my students and all the wonderful people with whom I work.   True, I get overwhelmed with grading and lesson planning sometimes, but 90% of the time, I’m smiling (on the inside at least)!

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View of the spring

When I get home, I’m often surprised at the changes that have taken place while I was gone.  Our neighbor’s son is clearing undergrowth for us when he has time.   As our views open up, we’ve changed our minds about where to build the house, and then changed them back again, only to change again a day later.

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Possible view from the back of the future house

We know that we want the back of the house to look out toward the woods and possibly with a view of the creek, which is to the right of the above scene.   We’ll be right at the transition from planted pines to hardwoods within hearing of the creek, regardless of quite where the house ends up.

Just like the ever-changing location, we’ve changed our minds about the house more times than we can count.  However, we keep coming back to Whisper Creek from Southern Homes.  We’ve talked about changes to all of the house plans we’ve looked at, including that one, but now that we’ve decided to replace the second bathroom with a tornado shelter, we’re content to leave everything else alone!   The kitchen provides all the room I need to can veggies and make jam, and the porches are just the right size.   We don’t like the mixed siding on the outside, but using the same siding everywhere is not a structural change.   I found myself mentally planning paint colors and countertops this morning, and that hasn’t happened with any other plan in the four years we’ve owned the land!

Yes, it’s been four years.  I’m glad I have old blogs to look back as we thought it had been five years.   We have so much to be thankful for going into another wonderful Thanksgiving.  The move here has done wonders for our mental and physical health, and we are overall healthy.  We have friends and family who are worth their weight in gold, and may start building our forever home before Thanksgiving 2020 rolls around.  We are going into winter with more hives than before, and I have an “Early Bird” chicken catalog to peruse.   Life is good!

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

The Colors (and tasks) of Fall

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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.

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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…..

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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

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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!