Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

Buckwheat Update

There are reasons my old laptop is at the farm, and right now the main one seems to be to induce stress eating!   But after 2 hours, I have pictures downloaded from my phone and have unsuccessfully looked through today’s buckwheat photographs in search of a bee in focus.   The bees were generally camera shy in the first place, and trying to take pictures after 2 hours in the bee yard wasn’t ideal, so here’s a picture of bee-less buckwheat!

Buckwheat
Buckwheat

The bees forage on the buckwheat and wildflowers from about 8:30 a.m. to lunch.   They show some interest in sugar syrup in the afternoon, but not as much as I expected.  There must still be natural nectar sources available.   I also saw three different colors of pollen coming into the hives this morning.   I didn’t see much open brood in the hives I checked today, but the queens are still fat and each hive had at least 3 frames of capped brood, some nectar, and some bee bread.    Most hives that were queenless last inspection now have active and healthy queens, but two NUCs have failed to produce a queen despite a couple of rounds of added brood.   I added them to a some weaker hives using newspaper to divide the two colonies until they get used to each other.

We were low on 10-frame lids, so we’d temporarily double stacked some NUCs.   Three of them were jam-packed, and I moved them to 10-frame boxes and even added supers to two of them.   I didn’t see any small hive beetles yet, but I know they’re coming.   Actually, they are probably already down at the lower apiary, but I still have 8 hives to check in the new location before I head down there.  So far, the landscape fabric below the hives appears to be making a difference — or maybe it’s just the sunnier location.

English Hive - June 2018
English Hive – June 2018

It’s clearly been a good spring as areas that were clear spring break now have weeds taller than I.  I had to cut a path to my hive before I could see if they have a new queen (they do).  I’m waiting for a rain shower that will keep the girls inside to cut the weeds in front of the hive, but I may have to just suit up and sweat my way through that little patch one evening before I come inside.    While they are not mean bees, they are a little more animated than I am used to from that hive and I don’t plan to sit outside after stirring them up.   That said, they allowed me to do a full inspection this morning and any day without a sting is a good day.

Talking of stings, Bill Turnbull’s book Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper includes hilarious tales of bee stings and the incompletely thought through decisions that led to them in a way that makes me feel good about my own mistakes while imparting some basic knowledge for people interested in the sometimes crazy hobby / business of beekeeping.   It’s an easy read and perfect for my tired brain one week into summer break.    Anyone who describes a bee stinger as a hammer with a thumbtack attached (page 5) clearly knows what he’s talking about, and a sting to the face for a television host certainly has more repercussions than a sting to a face of a teacher who only has an audience of 100 or so on any given day!

I am greatly enjoying my active days at the farm.    I still can’t quite believe that I get to stay here once school starts.   The real work of getting the infrastructure in place for me to do so will start next week when Hubby arrives and we get to do fun things like install a new septic system!  I guess that’s better than having to dig up an old one, and the new mini-home will be well worth the effort.   The RV has served us well for two years, but things going scratch-scratch in the walls at 1:00 a.m. do not make for a good night’s sleep!   Scratch-scratch is better than city life — at least until I come face to face with whatever it is!

Bees · Construction · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Buckwheat, and Carrots, and Bees, oh my….

Carrot flowers
Carrot plants in bloom

A couple  of years ago, we had an erosion problem along the driveway and I had some left-over seed packets, so I sowed carrots, cabbage, and who-knows-what-else in front of the “garden” where the English hive resides.   I’d read that both carrots and cabbage produce nectar sources at times when nectar is scare, and I figured that the carrot tubers would have to break up the cement-like clay at least a little.   Well, now the carrots are blooming, and it’s a wonderful sight, especially with a large variety of pollinators visiting.

According to The World Carrot Museum, carrots are biennial and require a cold snap to produce seeds in their second year.   Well, the extended period of below-freezing temperatures certainly seems to have done a good job with that this year.  Some of the flower stalks are at chest height and there is an abundance of blooms.

HoneyBeeSuite says that carrot honey has an aroma reminiscent of chocolate, and what could be better than honey and chocolate?   I doubt that we have enough plants to really be able to taste that, but it’s certainly an incentive to plant more carrots that we don’t intend to harvest for food.

Buckwheat seedlings
Buckwheat seedlings

Buckwheat honey, on the other hand, has an earthy flavor that people either seem to love or hate.   Again, I doubt that we have enough buckwheat planted to really get an idea of what true buckwheat honey tastes like, but we do have two areas of buckwheat growing that will provide nectar a month apart from each other.   I’ll continue to sow at intervals to help the bees through the nectar dearth that we all know is coming.    The bloom time on the fall crop we planted last October was only a couple of weeks, but the bees were all over it while it lasted.   My hope is that it will self-seed enough to keep a nectar supply going.   Its self-seeding habit can become a problem if it’s planted where it’s unwanted, but it’s also a great crop to till under before it seeds to improve soil quality, if that’s what you want.   It seemed like the perfect solution for the area that will eventually become a garden and orchard, but for now just needs something growing to slow down water run-off.

Bees - May 2018
Bees – May 2018

Hubby is currently inspecting hives, but a quick look yesterday showed that all are thriving.   He took 80 large frames with him, so between those and all the medium frames we already have at the farm, he can continue to provide room for growth for the next couple of weeks.   Me — I’m home sniffing and sneezing.  Allergies or a cold?  Who knows, but I was too muddled-headed to drive to the farm last night.   With Tropical Storm Alberto on the way, staying home and maybe packing some more boxes doesn’t feel so bad, although I hate to miss a long weekend at the farm.

Hubby had to drive down early to meet the mobile home representative to make sure we can get our new small-home onto the lot and discuss whether we need to remove any trees to get it into the space currently occupied by the RV.    We weren’t expecting the new home for 8 – 10 weeks as we had to custom order one with a propane stove and furnace, but we could have it as soon as in 3 – 4 weeks, according to current estimates.   Once again, our priorities have shifted and getting the infrastructure in place now takes precedence over getting the workshop erected.   Still, that makes selling the city house easier as we’ll be able to move some furniture directly to the mobile home and store only what doesn’t fit.    We’re also planning a moving sale as we have quite a lot of stuff that we really don’t like enough to pay storage fees and we’re going from a four bedroom house to a one bedroom (plus the mobile home) for retirement.

There’s a lot going on right now, and it’s a little overwhelming at times, especially as I am also packing up my classroom and deciding what to keep.   I have so much student work that brings back such great memories from the past 10 years, but it’s taking up more and more space every year.   Maybe I just need to take the good camera in to work one day and photograph everything so that I can keep the memories while minimizing the number of boxes to transport and store.    Making those decisions in two different locations is stressful for someone like me who still has every piece of artwork and every card given to me by my now-grown daughters.  I’m even hanging on to an empty poster tube because it’s one of the last things I received with my mother’s handwriting on the mailing label!    Maybe we need to build the downsized house, but add climate-controlled building for sentimental stuff I just can’t let go of!  Just don’t tell Hubby I said that……

Bees · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General

Workshop progress and swarming bees

Pouring the slab for the workshop.
Pouring the slab for the workshop.

Well, the slab has been poured for the workshop, the pieces and parts of the building are on site and we will start putting the puzzle together Memorial Day weekend.   I figure it’s going to be like a larger version of the greenhouse — a much larger version — but I’m hoping that things go together better!   The metal is clearly sturdier, so if the holes are drilled in the right places, things should go well.

The concrete needs to cure for 28 day days before we apply stress to it, so the first task is to just build the frame.   We’ll add the insulation and siding in June when the foundation can withstand a wind load.   This will be my big red barn and hubby has promised to put a cupola on top once he gets a chance to build one.  I’m excited, especially as the cupola will do double duty as a bat house.   I really enjoy watching the bats swoop between the trees at dusk, and I hope they eat love-bugs as the first of those are making an appearance already.

Finished workshop slab
Finished workshop slab

The PVC pipes are our electricity, water, and drainage access lines for the future.   The large pipe on the right is simply a conduit that runs from one side of the shop to the other to allow for easy expansion of things like wiring if (when?) we find the need to change our original plans.   Before we left on Sunday, we spread wheat straw around the slab to minimize the splatter of clay onto our bright, shiny, new concrete with the rain we anticipate over the next week or so.   I threw a couple more cups of buckwheat seed out with the straw.  After all, why waste space that can be used for nectar producing plants?

Another decision we made this past weekend was to replace the RV with a small mobile home that will later become the business office for the apiary.   We’ll live there until we get the house built.   I’d intended to live in the RV until we finished the house, but the lack of closet space combined with the abundance of mice slowly started to weigh on my mind.   The darn mice love to chew on my wooden spoons in the kitchen drawer, so I replaced the spoons with silicone spatulas.   The mice then ate the silicone.   We keep plugging up holes, and they keep finding new ways in.   The most amusing evidence was the time I arrived to find about 9 feet of toilet paper unspooled — it’s actually pretty funny to picture a mouse trying to climb up the toilet paper roll, but still disturbing!

So, by the end of summer, we should be upgrading to 762 square feet of home, but we’re not the only ones looking for a larger living space:  hubby arrived just in time to see bees swarm from my hive into a tree on Wednesday evening.   He put multiple swarm traps out, but they still headed toward the creek the next morning.   While I love having that hive up by the RV, it tends to be the last to get checked, which means that it doesn’t always get checked when it should.   That will change in summer when we can check a few hives a day instead of trying to get to all 38 on a weekend.  We did check hives Saturday afternoon and upgraded most NUCs to 8 or 10 frame hives and added supers to some of the existing 8s and 10s.   While doing so, we checker-boarded frames with fresh foundation in the brood chamber and moved nectar frames up to the supers.   The nectar flow is incredibly good this year and all of the queens are laying well.   We only found one hive with swarm cells, and we distributed them to NUCs.

We’re experimenting with starter strips instead of full sheets of foundation this year.   We put a mixture of both into each hive this time to see which the bees prefer.   I installed frames with starter strips into a couple of hives last trip and the bees are drawing really pretty comb onto them.

The weather is probably not going to be conducive to a trip this coming weekend, but that gives us time to pack up a few more things to take with us the week after.   There’s one thing for sure — when you keep bees, you’ll never run out of things to do whether you’re in the city or the country, so life, as always, is good.

 

 

 

 

Bee Stings · Construction · Gardening · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee · Storage

Slowly Moving West

We have started taking plants and boxes of household goods to the farm — just what will fit in the vehicles each time and what we have had time to pack.  Most of the bee stuff is down there now, which makes getting around in the 40-foot container challenging!   Still, the bees are rapidly going through the frames we’ve built, so empty totes come back to the city with us in time to be refilled.

Shop Site
Shop Site

Building the shop has become a priority so that we have more space to put things and so that we have a clean space to sling honey this summer.  As we want to sell in Georgia, we need to be certified in Georgia.   Hubby spent most of the weekend leveling the shop site and was working on trenching to install conduit last time I talked to him.   (I came back early to get laundry done for the week.)    Our neighbor has been a great help, both in terms of giving advice and helping on the tractor.   His company will be pouring the slab next week and then the construction can start.  It’s exciting!

Spring border
Daffodil, iris, crinum lily, and other spring transplants.

Even though there was a lot to get done, hubby was still willing to help me get spring bulbs transplanted.  They’re all looking rather sad right now, but I know from experience that they’ll look great next spring, if not before.   The grass and wildflower seeds are doing well, and I added some clover seed and fertilizer yesterday.   If we can just get enough growing to slow down the erosion, we’ll have a less muddy driveway when we get those Southern downpours!   The drainage ditches hubby, my brother-in-law, and I have cut are making a huge difference, and plants will just be the final touch we need.

Smoker
Smoker with new bellows

Of course, we didn’t neglect the bees this weekend, even with all the other tasks we needed to accomplish.    We had to replace the bellows on one of our smokers, and we love this new Pro Bellow from Mann Lake.   There’s a nozzle at the bottom that blows air directly into the smoker, and that has made it easier to get the smoker lit.   I’ll let you know how it holds up, but for now I’m sold!

I intended to just check the queenless hives, but we ended up checking all the hives for space after seeing how much nectar the bees have brought in over the past week.   Two hives have already started capping honey, and I only saw three small hive beetles all day.  There were no new wasp nests started in lids, but there were enough cockroaches on top of inner covers to keep the hair on the back of my neck standing up!   Talking of hair — if you have short hair, don’t pull your hat too tight — hubby got stung on his head through his cap yesterday!

Bricks on hives
Bricks on hives to indicate which hives have queens, and which do not.

We continue to use a combination of methods to track what’s going on in hives.   A flat brick indicates that the hive has a laying queen, and an upright means that the hive is queenless.   In addition, I write notes on the lids with a Sharpie.  We have three hives with queen cells that have hatched since last weekend, but I didn’t see a queen yesterday, so I like having that history at my fingertips when I go to recheck.   Then we have a spreadsheet in which we track hive inspections, treatments, and mite counts.    That’s becoming quite time-consuming and I’m working on automating some of the reporting and tracking, although I probably won’t get much done until summer.   As my new school starts the new year 3 weeks earlier than South Carolina schools, and we need to get this house on the market, and build the workshop, and move my work clothes, I may not find much time to refine the database while keeping up with a growing apiary!    It’s a good set of problems to have!

We’re looking forward to May’s Mid-Carolina Beekeeper Association meeting on Tuesday.  Has it really been a month since the last meeting?   Time flies in spring, which is why we all have to get hive equipment ready in winter!

Enjoy the (finally) warmer weather and take time to smell the roses.

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee

The Return of the Hives!

Blackberry flowers
Blackberry flowers

One good thing about this time of year is that I can perform full checks of 18 hives in just a couple of hours!   While I’d hate to see so few bees and no honey come June, it sure is nice to be able to knock out half the bee yard before lunch without even breaking a sweat.

My feeling about the blackberry bushes is the reverse.  Right now, I’m happy to see all the flowers because they are such a good nectar source and our bees are bringing in lots of lovely nectar and pollen right now.   However, as soon as the blackberry bushes stop blooming, I’ll get hubby to hook the cutter up to the tractor and I’ll mow down all the ones that are growing like the weeds they are along our trails.   They are quite welcome to keep growing off the trails for now — at least until after I make another batch of blackberry-apple jam.

The bees are doing great and so far there are very few small hive beetles in the new yard.   Most of the hives are beetle free, but 3 had wasps starting nests under the lids.   Two were yellow jackets and one was a red wasp — I’m not sure which I like least.   Well maybe I do — I like the ones that are gone!

The new bees that hubby bought in Jesup are very friendly.   Some of the hives are outgrowing their space, while others are just plodding along.   The packages he bought all still have their queens and they are laying, but some of the queens he bought separately are nowhere to be found.  We’re pretty sure that not being able to install them right away contributed to those losses, but at least the remaining ones are making up for lost time.   We tried introducing a NUC with an weak  queen from last year to a hive that had become queenless this spring, but that failed.   The hive itself is incredibly strong, but no queen — unless she’s out on a mating flight.    It seems to me that they would have preferred a weak queen to no queen at all, but bees don’t always make sense.

Yellow Columbines
Yellow Columbines — Columbines grow so much better in the clay here than in the sandy soil back in the city!

It’s nice to be back and see the grass seed sprouting along the driveway along with what might be wildflowers from the seed my friend sent for my birthday.    I also have spring onions growing and one lonely squash plant.   Last week, hubby thought something had been snacking in the temporary vegetable beds, so that plant might not be even there next weekend — or it may be surrounded by other plants.   We did get to eat one strawberry each this afternoon and are looking forward to more in years to come.

It still seems a little surreal that I will be here full time soon.   For now, we’re bringing one or two boxes of stuff with us each time we drive down.   I don’t think either one of us wants to think about packing up the house until we get to the end of the school year, but when the mood strikes I do gather stuff to take to Goodwill.   We are both pack-rats, but as we’re downsizing some things just have to go.   Maggie, the dog, is just so much happier here so I’m sure she’d pack for us while we’re at work if she knew how.

It’s been a productive and tiring day, but I’ll be going to sleep stress free and with a big smile on my face.   Every trip reaffirms that buying this land was the perfect decision for us and our future.   Happy spring, everyone — it seems like it might be sticking around this time!

Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Cooking with Gas – April Updates

Enough propane to last a while!
Enough propane to last a while!

Today we got a very large propane tank to power our tiny home!   This will be the tank that provides propane to the house eventually, but it’s worth it even now — both for the convenience of having a reliable source of heat and hot water and for the cost savings.   We ran out of propane one of those well-below freezing nights over winter break, and we don’t want to make a habit out of that!   Getting up in the dark and the cold to drive 10 miles to get a tank of propane is not fun.   Well, it wasn’t bad for me as I turned the electric blanket up and waited for hubby to return, but it was no fun for him.

Future workshop site
Future workshop site

We’ve made other great progress this week.   Hubby has leveled the site for the future workshop.   He had to take down some trees and scrape off the top soil to get down to clay, so I now have temporary raised beds made from those trees and the soil for this year’s veggie garden.   I’ve also planted more grass, clover, and wild-flower seed to reduce erosion along the driveway while providing for the bees.   The bees are still very interested in the syrup buckets, so I’m impatient to see some nectar plants start supplying them with what they need.

Temporary raised beds
Temporary raised beds

For some reason, the well filter keeps clogging, and I wonder if the tree clearing across the creek has anything to do with it.   We ended up removing the filter after the third after-dark trip to the well house one night, but now silt clogs the sprinklers so they don’t turn off.   That made for an interesting shower last night — five sprinklers were running and I got to wash shampoo out of my hair with  the left over trickle.    After that, walking across the slick clay to turn off all the faucets in the dark was a challenge, but then I looked up at the beautiful night sky and the challenge turned into a blessing.   It’s been too long since we walked down the driveway after dark.   I love the electric gate opener, but I didn’t realize how much I missed our evening walks to go lock the gate.

The really good news is that most of the bee packages and splits we made are doing well.    Bees moved out of one of the hives that took a long time to release the queen, but the rest have eggs and/or brood in various stages and all of the queens are fat and active.   The hives in the old location are still battling small hive beetles, so we’re trying beetle traps made of Borax and Crisco paste in CD covers for the first time.    We’ll let you know how that goes.   The hives in the new, sunnier location have far fewer problems with beetles so far.

More good news is that I received a job offer for next school year, so I’ll be living at the farm full time after June.   That moved the workshop up the priority list as we’ll need somewhere to put all the tools from the garage, but at least we’ll no longer be moving carpentry projects up and down I-20!   I’m enjoying spring break, so I’m trying very hard to not think about packing up everything else in the house and getting the house on the market.   It’s much less stressful to think about being able to monitor the bees on a more consistent basis.

Blue bells
Blue bells – another childhood favorite of mine.

 

 

 

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Queen Bee · Relaxing

A Bee-filled Spring Break!

Violets
Violets

Spring break is finally here, and we are spending it with the bees and the trees!   The blackberries are starting to bloom and we see pollen coming into the hives, so the pace should be picking up in the apiary very soon.   Hubby drove down last weekend to check our walkaway splits from the prior week while I stayed home and rested my foot.   Yep, his back is getting better and my foot got worse, but we now both feeling better daily.

While hubby was here, he saw a post on LetGo about an apiary that was being liquidated because the apiarist had sadly passed away.   It seemed worth checking out, and it was; hubby made the 200 mile trip to Jesup, GA and returned with 10 packages of bees and 10 mated queens.   He installed the packages and two queens before returning to SC on Sunday and the remaining queens took a road trip!   We were able to get them all through the week in the city and back to the farm without any losses.

So, of course yesterday afternoon was all about making sure queens were out of their cages and finding homes for the other queens.   We had a couple of walkaway splits that had not produced a queen cell, so we added queens to those.   We decided to break up our evil hive into nucs with new queens and found that they did not currently have a queen, so our timing was perfect on that one.   They did have a recently opened queen cell, so we tore the hive down completely and moved the nucs to another part of the apiary, just in case there was a queen out on a mating flight.   That hive has remained aggressive through multiple requeenings, so we really don’t want their genetics to be perpetuated.

Bee yard
Bee Yard – March 2018

Last week and yesterday afternoon were a whirlwind of action,  so today will be about cleaning up the bee yard and figuring out how many hives we actually have now!   We’ll then start on complete inspections of established hives, including mite counts, and then get all of the new hives inspected over the next few days.   We have to pace ourselves so that our creaky old bones don’t pitch a fit again but balance that with figuring out where we stand.   My brain does not like not knowing  our numbers or inspection status any more than my ankle likes being twisted!

We remain hopeful that this will be our last spring of long-distance bee keeping.   I have some interviews lined up over spring break and my current school knows that I hope to move to Georgia.   Big changes like this make me nervous, but being here in the woods relieves all that stress and some…..