Beekeepers Associations and Groups · Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary

Beekeeper Certification

Certified Beekeeper Certificate

It’s been years since Hubby earned his Certified Beekeeper certificate and he is already working toward the next step. For me, it’s been years of not being able to take days off work at the end of the school year to take the classes or the test. Well, most of that occurs on weekends, but my weekends and evenings were filled up with essay grading and other tasks, and I didn’t feel like I had enough brain power left to take a test in May!

I was therefore very happy to receive an email about a test session in Atlanta on a Saturday this June. I even read the email very shortly after it arrived (which doesn’t happen often) and was able to book one of the few remaining test times. Whew.

The next hurdle was driving into downtown Atlanta. Even when I drove in heavy city traffic and on Interstates daily, I did not like Atlanta traffic. As I almost never drive even close to an Interstate these days, Hubby was kind enough to be my chauffeur. As it was, Hubby had to tolerate my gasps and squeaks as aggressive drivers zigged and zagged across lanes far too close to us. Do I sound like I’m 20 years or so older than I actually am? Yes, I was in full-on crazy bee-lady mode.

We made it in one piece and with plenty of time to spare and met some very nice people from across the state who were also waiting for their test times. Now from what Hubby remembers of his test, he had about half the number of written test questions I had and only 8 hive components to name compared to my 20. The first page or so of my written test was all fill-in-the-blank questions and I became quite nervous when people started turning pages while I was only halfway down page one. Then I realized that they were going to go back to that part later! Onto the practical portions. The first frames on my hive inspection were all honey, and those were followed by capped honey with a perfect circle of capped brood in the middle. Our bees are not that organized! One frame even had some pollen stuffed in one cell. No other pollen or bee bread on the frame. Weird. Halfway through the box, things started to look more normal and I was able to identify everything I needed to show the examiner.

Some of the questions on the test and some of the hive components had me doubting myself for the 10 days it took to receive my results, but I am now a certified beekeeper. While the day was not without its challenges (traffic, heavy rain, nerves), reviewing our books was priceless. There are things I had forgotten which I am now implementing, and there were things that I hadn’t fully understood at the time I first read the books but now have the hands-on experience to marry what I’ve seen with what the books explain.

A week ago, I firmly believed that I would not pursue certification any further than this, but now I am again considering going all the way to master beekeeper, mainly because of the increased depth of knowledge I gained. Between bees, soaps, essential oils, and gardening, I certainly have enough to keep my mind busy, but I know a variety of interests is what keeps me happy.

Of course, the bees were unimpressed and rewarded me with multiple stings the week after I received my results. The pollen dearth is here, the sourwood nectar is running low, thunderstorms abound, and the bees are cranky. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even while digging a stinger out from a finger tip, life is good on the farm.

Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

You bought what?

We have honey to bottle, a honey workshop to finish building, hives to inspect, a house to build, so I was surprised to find out that Hubby got a great deal on wood ware for the apiary and had placed our biggest order yet. the two thousand and five hundred frames shown above is only part of the shipment.

In addition to the frames, we have 250 8- and 10-frame deep boxes to be assembled and painted, so our winter weekends will be busy! We ran out of 8-frame deeps this year and are close to running out of 10s, so we do need the equipment to continue the growth we are grateful to be experiencing. It’s just such a big stack of wood! As always when it comes to growing the business, Hubby is the engine, and I am the brakes. It works well as we balance each other out, especially as in the Progressive Insurance commercials, I am turning into my parent (dad) as far as spending goes and would never take any risks!

The shipment arrived through Yellow Freight, but as they are too big to turn around on our property we would have had to offload everything out on the road — the country road with a 55 mph speed limit and blind corners from both directions. Hubby therefore picked up the shipment in LaGrange. As his brother’s big trailer is two feet lower than loading dock, it took some maneuvering to get everything transferred, but the staff at Yellow Freight were incredibly helpful. The office staff had already bent over backwards to accommodate pickup times to fit Hubby’s work schedule and then two days of stormy weather.

Our biggest problem came with off-loading everything once it arrived here. We were expecting six pallets, each of which we could have unloaded with our tractor. It arrived on three pallets, one of which was stacked higher than I am tall. We had fun moving that one into the workshop as Hubby could only see my hands waving above the load to give directions! And I was standing on tip-toes.

So….. Hubby rented a Bobcat, picked it up, and then couldn’t remove the bucket to attach the forks because the quick-release handles were damaged. That led to my first adrenaline-filled experience of guiding him (backwards) onto a trailer that had only a couple of inches clearance on either side. He took it back, found out that they shop knew about the damage, and is awaiting replacement parts. They next morning, he picked the same Bobcat up again, and followed the instructions they gave to remove the bucket — with their assurance that we would not be liable for any damage caused in the process. After that, it took very little time to move everything into the shop, just ahead of the next round of storms.

Surprisingly, my second Bobcat-loading guidance went incredibly well and Hubby got the Bobcat back onto the trailer very quickly. Hubby always impresses me when he works with equipment like this.

So while life may be a little crowded in the workshop again, it is still very, very good on the farm. As the current weather forecast predicts rain on and off all day, I’m heading to the predictable conditions in the RV to bottle some honey, so it will also be a very sweet day.

Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Products and Vendors

First 2021 Honey Extraction

Honey Extractor

We knew we had a good amount of honey in the hives, but we were not expecting quite as much as we found yesterday. We extracted 2.5 5-gallon buckets of honey , and we still have half-capped frames in some hives. The first sourwood tree is about to burst into bloom, so if we get some decent rainfall over the next three weeks, we’ll have even more before the season ends.

While weather is always the biggest factor in honey production, the clover we have seeded over the past five years is also a contributing factor to our record harvest. I mow the areas with clover every two weeks, alternating fields to ensure that the bees always have something blooming. I set the mower to the highest setting so that I’m only deadheading spent blooms, and I water the densest sections every couple of days. Clover roots go deeper than most grasses, so the plants are both good erosion. They also put nitrogen into the soil, so they help the grass that we have planted with them. The slopes where we have established clover are far greener than the areas where the clover is just getting started.

I was just searching electric honey extractors and saw a search for “Are electric honey extractors worth it?” We are still using our hand-crank, 9-frame extractor, and at around 2:00 pm yesterday I would have said an emphatic “Yes!” However, the cost on anything that meets our needs exceeds our honey revenue. I’m hesitant to spend that much money on something that will just sit in a corner for most of the year, but I’m sure that will change as we grow the business while growing older. It sure was a good cardio and strength-training session yesterday, and it’s nice to be able to do all that an not be in pain today. That adds to my hesitancy to spend over a thousand dollars.

Talking about spending money — honey bottles have gone up since fall and the ones we usually use don’t have caps available, even in colors I don’t much care for. Once we fill the last of the bottles we bought in fall, we’ll be switching to honey bears. It will be interesting to see how the customers react to them. Like some of the soaps that are not really my taste (too highly scented) they may do better. We’ll see.

Well, I have some cleanup to do in our temporary honey kitchen. Next year we will be in the one that is currently under construction. It will be nice to have room to move around and equipment placed for optimal work flow, even if that equipment does require lots of manual labor!

Life is good, and very, very sweet, here on the farm.

Chickens · Honey · Products and Vendors

2021 Honey Harvest

Capped and uncapped honey frame

Memorial Day weekend is usually when we harvest our first batch of honey, and that was the plan this year. The weather has been better than last spring, the hives have been thriving, and the bees have been busy gathering nectar from all of the clover we have surrounding their hives now. So why are here at the end of the holiday weekend with not a single frame spun out?

It’s the chickens fault! The “baby chicks” are very rapidly outgrowing their temporary home but are not yet quite big enough to move in with the big girls. Last year’s run and coop aren’t quite big enough for all 12 of the girls, so we’ve been busy building an extension to the existing run. The small coop we bought when the new chicks outgrew the brooder within 4 weeks will move into one end of the run and we’ll put a chicken-sized door into the other run. The only hold up right now is the gate — the gate that Tractor Supply said would ship in 3 – 5 days. Ten days later, we still can’t get an estimate on when it will arrive. Now, if you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I’m a big fan of Tractor Supply, but if we’d known there was going to be a big delivery delay, we would have purchased something different somewhere else so we could just get the job done.

Coop extension

As you can see, we haven’t been wasting time, though. Instead of using cinderblocks to critter-proof the run, I’m building rock gardens. The section to the left of the pine tree is where the gate will go. The white fence is what I put around my raised beds when the chickens were free-ranging and ate things not intended for them — like all my strawberries! Now that the girls no longer free-range, I can repurpose the fence.

Did I even write about the end of free-ranging here? One day the girls were out eating bugs when the dogs started to go crazy. I stepped out on the porch and heard squawking chickens. That’s about all we know for sure, but the slowest (physically and mentally) chicken has not been seen since. A few days later we returned to the house after taking the dogs for their evening run and the dogs chased an eagle out of the large field in front of our house. Our best guess is that the lost chicken became dinner for the eagle, a hawk, or a fox as we never found any feathers.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the other two were so stressed out that they stopped laying for a while. They also show no desire to leave their run whereas before they were very determined to go explore the woods. They called for their sister for a couple of days and then just moped around for a couple more. Happily, they are getting back on track now. Apparently stress can impact their digestive system and feeding them yogurt can help with that , so they’ve been getting hand-picked salads with yogurt dressing! And by salads, I mean the weeds they prefer when they foraged.

We had a lot of the brush that we can’t get to with the tractor pushed back this week which should reduce the risk of non-flying predators. We haven’t seen the terrain this clearly since the timber was thinned our first spring, and even then there was a lot a waste blocking the view. We are ready to start building the forever house, but builders are booked up for months. Still, with this clearing we know that our chosen site is the best one for us. It will happen when the time is right.

We’ll harvest honey, rehouse the chickens, and eat homegrown tomatoes very soon. Life is never boring on the farm and it is always good.

Bees · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

Lavender Cuttings and Honey

Back in fall, I read a post on Pinterest that recommended using honey as a root stimulator. The link to that post is no longer active, but I did find another resource from Gardening Know How this morning. I believe the recipe I used listed two tablespoons of honey, while this one only uses one, but I may be wrong.

I really didn’t think this would work, but I tried it anyway, using honey that I didn’t want to bottle because it came from cleaning wax cappings. I mixed the honey and water in a mason jar, pulled leaves off lavender cuttings and scored the stems a little and then dropped them into the mason jar while I continued my search for leggy lavender. Most of the cuttings therefore soaked in the honey water for at least 20 minutes before I unceremoniously stuck them into a planter.

Lavender Border – Freshly Mulched

When the sun finally came out last weekend, my patience ran out and I just had to dig up the first cutting! To my surprise, it had around 3 inches of roots from all around the stem. Not all of the cuttings were quite that successful, but every one had enough of a root system to transplant it. I thought briefly about moving them to individual pots for another six months of babying, but the more cuttings I dug out with fantastic roots, the more work that seemed to be. We now have an additional 30 plants along the driveway. Now, not all of them may survive, but the exciting thing for me is that every cutting had roots. In the past, I’ve had anywhere from a 50 – 75% success rate using the same process but with store-bought chemicals.

I dug up two gardenia cuttings yesterday, but those are not yet as successful. Still, gardenia cuttings have always taken longer to root and had a lower success rate than many of the other plants I’ve propagated. I moved them from the greenhouse to outdoors and will leave them alone until the weather turns hot. At that point, they’ll stand a better chance of surviving in individual pots or in the ground. When I transplant them, I’ll douse them with honey water to give the roots another helping hand – maybe.

Bees on Calendula

Spring is in the air for the bees, too! The pollen feeder and syrup feeders are abuzz and the lonely calendula blossom above was covered in bees all day long. I sowed calendula seed too late last year but managed to get a handful of plants started in pots. They have bloomed throughout the winter and survived temperatures as low as 23 degrees. Not only are they a great resource for bees at a time when not much else blooms, calendula blossoms are reputed to aid healing for a variety of skin conditions. I use calendula blossoms in the anti-itch salve that I make and have used calendula-infused olive oil in one batch of soap so far. I hope to get enough growing this spring to have plenty for the bees and me to share. From what I’ve read, calendula will readily self-seed and grow in even the poorest soils, so I just need to get some going, leave some flowers to go to seed, stop the chickens from eating them, and stop the cat from digging them up to poop in the flower pots!

Well, the sun is out and the thermometer is rising, so it’s time to leave the computer and head outdoors! I don’t think I’ll be throwing any more mulch around with a pitchfork today, but there are some less strenuous garden and bee chores I can tackle. There are always plenty of reasons to get out an enjoy the sunshine here on the farm, and there will be time enough to do laundry after sunset.

Chickens · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Supplemental Feeding

Honey Refractometer

This year has been odd in regards to honey production. We would normally harvest wildflower honey early June and sourwood honey in July, but June was a bust. We ended up with one medium plastic frame that wouldn’t seat in the extractor and one large frame that fell apart and dumped all the comb in the bottom. While we were able to extract about five pounds over about two hours, the time spent was not worth the output.

However, the bees packed the frames when the sourwood trees were blooming, so we have honey coming — we’re just waiting for the girls to cap the honey! Just in case the honey was actually ready to harvest, Hubby bought a honey refractometer. The last remaining bit of honey we have from last year contains 16% moisture. What is in the hives was still at 20% a week ago. Below 17.8%, the honey will not spoil , but until it gets there, we and our customers are waiting.

Our biggest problem with that right now is the increase is small hive beetles and the decrease in available resources for the bees. Small hive beetle larva can ruin a frame on uncapped honey very quickly if the hive population is low, so we’re keeping an eye on that. We’re also holding off on supplemental feeding as we don’t want any sugar syrup making its way into our honey supers. Once we’ve pulled honey, we’ll split strong hives, feed them well, and try to build up strength before the fall nectar flow starts.

In early spring, we had an abandoned hive that was rife with small hive and wax moth larvae — the chicks loved it! A not-so-nice part of me already feels intense satisfaction feed Japanese beetles to the chickens, but I’m still hoping to not have any chicken treats in our hives — especially as the chickens have not yet started to repay our kindness with eggs!

Hopefully we’ll get to pull honey this weekend. If not, I will attempt my first hot-process soap. Life is good on the farm, and we never run out of things to do!

Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Sourwood Trees and Honey

Sourwood Tree

Sourwood trees put on quite a show at this time of the year with their feathery white fronds of flowers, especially when the sunlight hits them just right. I spent much of last year wandering through our woods trying to find one that I can see from my desk late afternoons but never did find it from the ground! Now that we’ve pushed back even more brush, we’ve found more sourwoods than we ever imagined, including that one. These trees are probably the reason our honey was so very popular last year.

Sourwood Blooms

Sourwood honey is prized for its color, texture and taste. The bloom time is relatively short, so pure sourwood honey can be hard to find, especially after dry summers when the trees produce less nectar. The weather this year has been close to perfect for nectar production of all kinds, and we’re hoping for a good honey harvest.

We place our honey supers when the blackberries are in full bloom, but our bees also have access to plenty of nectar from trees, wild flowers, and clover. As we push back brush, we plant more clover to provide as much nectar close to the hives as possible. Up to this year, long grass has choked out the clover, but our zero-turn mower has solved that problem this year and the clover is still going strong. The sourwoods have just started blooming, and we’ll leave the honey supers in place until both they stop. We use no pesticides or insecticides (other than fire-ant granules) on our land, so we know our honey is high quality. Still, last year’s honey was the best we’ve ever produced, and we credit the sourwoods for that.

May honey, 2019

Last year’s honey was the color of champagne and delicious. Many of our repeat customers found it helped with their allergies and sore throats, and they are waiting for us to have a new batch to sell. We used plastic bottles with caps that seal for the first time last year as the bottles are sterilized when manufactured and we’ve had some leaky mason jars in previous years. Filling the bottles from the new honey keg was much faster and less messy than our old method of ladling honey into jars on a scale in the kitchen sink! We’ll be finished with the construction of the honey house by next year’s harvest, and the job will be even easier from start to finish.

I’m also looking forward to the honey harvest so I can immediately process the wax cappings for use in salves, lotion bars, and soap. While all the wax we use is filtered many times, I prefer the best wax for anything I’m going to use on my skin! I have started an itch-soother infusion for salve and a lavender infusion for soap and both will be ready by the time I have the fresh wax.

But right now, I hear thunder and need to go harvest zucchini and blueberries before it starts raining!