Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing

My favorite time of year.

Little evokes as much childlike joy in me as the sight of the first crocus or early daffodil.  I think it has a lot to do with the long winters of England and Germany those first 27 years of my life.  A daffodil pushing up through the snow and blooming bright yellow was always such a welcome sign.  I’m not sure that people in warmer climates can ever quite grasp just how long and dreary winters are in other regions!

Daffodil
Daffodil

Not only are daffodils blooming at the farm and in the city, the buckwheat at the farm is sprouting with its promise of nectar for the bees.   Of course, the blackberries are too, but I’ll forgive them for snagging my pants so long as they feed the bees.  I see many colors of pollen coming in right now, but the bees are all over the syrup buckets now that I’ve tipped them so the remaining syrup can drain out.   I guess that means nectar is still in short supply out there.

According to my phone, it’s only 58 degrees, but the bees are very active despite that.   Of course the hives in the sun are more active than those in the shade.   I plan to check for space and the likelihood of swarms this afternoon, but it’s not quite warm enough yet.   I’ve spent the morning staging equipment for inspections and possible splits and doing the tedious job of scraping propolis off frames and wood ware.   That’s not a job I relish, but it’s sunny and the sky is blue so I’d rather do that than sit inside.  (Unless of course I’m grabbing another cup of coffee and blogging.)

I’ll start the inspections with the hives that had the lowest numbers of bees first just to make sure they haven’t experienced a population explosion and need another brood box.  By the time I finish that, it should be warm enough to check frames on the hives that I suspect are running out of space.   We had to limit ourselves to putting an additional box on top of the English hive last trip because, although they were jam packed, temperatures were starting to fall and we didn’t have time to do anything else.   That hive is also no longer centered on the bottom board and the second box is tipped a little, which is making the rest of the hive look precarious.   I think I’m going to have to bite the bullet and re-stack the whole darn thing.  It’s tempting to start with that one, but it’s always been our strongest producer so it’s the most likely to need to be split.

It’s 60 degrees – time to head back outdoors,  enjoy life and keep myself busy until it’s warm enough to do what I really came here for!

 

Bees · Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

Cause for celebration!

New hive stands
New hive stands

While our spring results are not perfect, we are very happy to have only lost two hives this winter.    I thought we went into winter with over 20 hives, but when I updated the records yesterday morning, I found that we have 15 hives.   However, that makes the percentage we lost this winter even better — and our best year yet.   Even the two we lost probably would have made it through if we hadn’t had that incredibly long cold spell.  In fall, we long debated combining them with each other or with other hives as they were not strong, but they also weren’t quite that weak and they had honey.  We added candy boards in December and hoped for the best.   Neither hive even went into the candy boards.  There were actually some resources left in the frames, but the bees died clustered — about 3 cups of bees in each hive.    Sixteen degrees is just too cold and we are counting our blessings that the other hives are doing as well as they are.

With temperatures in the mid seventies on Saturday, many bees were out gathering pollen and every hive still had a good number of bees in the hive.   We even had to add a super to the English hive and the best other hives have 10 frames of bees.  A couple of hives only have three frames, but there was a variety of ages so the queen must be ramping up production.   Despite the sunshine and the warm temperature, the intermittent breeze had a chill to it so I didn’t pull any frames.  I counted frames of bees and tested the weight of the boxes.  It feels like some of the ladies have really been packing sugar into frames!   Hubby helped out on the last two hives and pulled some frames without a large number of bees on them and saw lots of wonderful bee bread, pollen, and nectar.

I was impatient (and over confident) in the morning and did a quick check of candy boards before suiting up.  Our generally worst tempered hive had no sugar left, so I decided to give them one of the candy boards from a dead-out.   The unappreciative little critters stung me right above my top lip, so I spent the rest of the weekend looking like I was trying to do that stupid duck-face thing!   Hopefully I’ll abide by “we live and we learn” in the future.   I almost look normal again today, which is good because I have to get a new ID made tomorrow.

New Wood Ware - New Colors
New Wood Ware – New Colors

While I was checking hives, hubby installed some more hive stands in the new location and then he painted all the new wood ware with paint from the reject shelf at Lowe’s.  I love the new colors!    I know some beekeepers prefer an all-white apiary, but bees orient on color.   That’s my excuse for our rainbow hives, and I’m sticking to it.   I know for sure that hubby would not pick magenta if he was the only one working the bees, but he does like making me happy!   It works out well for both of us as I’d rather have pretty bee hives than jewelry, and you can’t buy a diamond ring for $9.00!

It was so wonderful to spend a weekend at the farm, even with a mouse in the camper!   (That was my motivation to get up at 6:00 a.m.)   I love waking up to the quiet and a view of pine trees.  While we’ll make frequent trips back before then, I’m counting down the days until spring break and a whole week in paradise!

Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

What’s going on?

Last week, I mentioned that our one hive in the city was abandoned right after the eclipse.   The bees were a swarm capture, and they were doing really well, so it was a surprise to walk up there one day and find no bees whatsoever.  What’s currently more surprising is that there are no bees to be seen at all in our yard.

Over at my husband’s workplace and the stores around there, bees are searching for resources in trashcans, showing that there is a definite nectar (sugar) dearth five miles from here.  Our neighbor at the farm is seeing the same thing — bees are going after what is left in soda cans.  This is something we haven’t seen before, and we assume it has something to do with the high winds and the torrential rains from Hurricane Irma.

In hopes of attracting some bees to the back yard and maybe capturing a fall swarm, I put out a syrup bucket early yesterday morning.   Our thought was that even if we don’t capture a swarm, we are helping local bees survive until the ubiquitous Goldenrod recovers enough to provide them what they need leading into winter.   After two days, we don’t have a single bee on the bucket.   I sprayed some extra Honey-B-Healthy around the bucket this morning as that is as enticing to a bee as good cheesecake is to me, but still no bees.   I just have to wonder whether the media-induced frenzy about mosquitoes has led to the death of all feral hives within 2 miles of our home, especially considering the EPA-confirmed pesticide kill we experienced last year.

Bees routinely fly up to two miles to find resources, and even further if that becomes necessary.   Of course, like us, they will “shop” locally if the “stores” offer what they need.   Bees five miles from here are dumpster-diving for sugary drinks with lots of added chemicals;  it makes no sense that we do not have a single bee on our zinnias, clover, garlic flowers, or syrup.  Here’s hoping that changes soon…..

Better news is that we have very little damage at the farm.

Our neighbors had already checked for damage right after the storm, but hubby was actually able to go down and check things out for himself this weekend.   One pine came down in the bee yard.  While it crushed a few empty hive boxes, it missed all of the hives , and all the hives are happily buzzing now that temperatures are back in the 80s.

Tree on fence
Tree on fence

A huge, rotten pine that was hung up in a tree along the street edge of the property also came down, smashing the H-brace at the creek end of the fence.   We have worried about this tree since before we bought the property because there was no good way to bring it down.  It was tall enough to hit the power line if it fell badly, and rotten enough to be a real danger to anyone trying to take it down.   Luckily it did what hubby always hoped it would do and split in the middle, dropping half the tree to the ground and (unluckily) the rest of the tree onto the fence.   We are just happy that it didn’t damage the power line,.

We have a few other, smaller trees down along the fence and two trees along the driveway that need to come down.   We’ll tackle them next weekend when we are both down there — it’s going be a two-person job to bring them down safely.

All-in-all we consider ourselves to be very, very lucky to have not sustained more damage than we did.   Our RV suffered no damage and the power wasn’t off long enough to let the ice in the freezer melt.  (A country tip for checking to see if the power goes off — put a Dixie cup of water in the freezer and place a coin on top of the ice before you leave.  If the coin is still on top when you come back, everything is good.  If the coin is on the bottom, you probably want to throw away any food that’s in there!)

Now we’re just hoping the systems currently in the Atlantic stay in the Atlantic!   Family in Texas is still drying out from Harvey and we’ll be cleaning up from Irma for a while.  Florida simply doesn’t need any more wind or rain for a while.   Our hearts go out to all of those who have sustained damage to their homes and businesses and our hearts are full of gratitude to all the people who have given so much to help those in need.

 

 

 

 

Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary

Battening down the (bee) hatches

With family in Texas still recovering from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma a threat to family in Georgia and South Carolina, we’re a little anxious over what the next few days will bring, but also counting our blessings as so many others are in far more dangerous situations.    We also have even more opportunities to realize how many wonderful people we know, from friends and family who took time to help hubby secure our hives when they certainly had enough of their own property to take care of to the friend who has opened up her pastures to shelter evacuated horses.

Hives
Hives strapped down

Hubby drove down to the farm to secure the hives and hive equipment as much as possible.   He, his brother, and a friend pounded pickets into the ground on either side of each hive and strapped each hive down.   The bees appear to know what’s coming because no bees were out foraging, even though they love the buckwheat that is right outside their door.   They’re all abuzz inside but didn’t even check out what the guys were doing.

Lawnmower
Lawnmower

Even my Beverly-Hillbillies-reject lawnmower got it’s own ratchet strap.   It’s not pretty to start with, but it’s still better than cutting all the grass we’ve been able to get growing with the push mower.   Of course, a bigger concern is our RV.   It’s also not the prettiest in the world, but we’ve put a lot of work and a lot of love into our home-away-from-home, and we already have so many good memories of our first 18 months with friends and family at our future full-time home.   Still, the RV is of secondary concern to the bees, as they are not only our business but also living creatures that are just trying to get ready for winter.

We’ve already lost our city bees.   They were crawling all over the outside of the hive in confusion as we headed into the eclipse a couple of weeks ago.   Right after the eclipse, they went back inside, but the guard bees were very aggressive.   We came back from the farm the following weekend to find the hive abandoned.  A yard without bees is so very strange these days — I still walk up to the hive when I get home from work hoping to find new occupants!

Our thoughts go out to everyone who is in the path of the storm.  Put safety ahead of material goods and we’ll see you when the skies clear.

 

Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Pollen Substitute and Regicide

I guess I need to start by telling you that the pollen substitute did not cause the regicide — I was an accessory to that crime, but I have no idea of how hubby actually disposed of the evil queen once I helped catch her!    We have another hive that has just become more and more unreasonable over time, and they now go straight for the upper thighs when we even approach them, never mind get started with a hive inspection.   We had purchased a new queen — one that was purported to be from a calm strain and also a strain that is very good at dealing with Varroa Mites.   After we removed the old queen, we waited 24 hours to re-queen, placed her in a queen introduction frame, sprayed the frame and the frames in the hive with Honey B Healthy to mask her pheromones — and they still killed her.     Talk about frustrating.   We’ve had other evil hives turn nice, so we haven’t given up on them yet, but I have had quite a few choice words for them over the past month.

Queen Introduction Frame
Queen Introduction Frame

The production of new brood has fallen off in all of our hives over the past month, and we really want to build them up before the fall flowers (Goldenrod and White Milkweed, mainly) start to bloom.    We’ve noticed that all of the hives have a lot of nectar and honey stored, but very little pollen, so we decided to give the pollen substitute another try.

Bees Collect Pollen Substitute
Bees Collect Pollen Substitute

Now, when we put this stuff out in spring, the bees showed no interest whatsoever.   This time, they are flocking to it like the dog to canned food!   We already saw an increase in bee bread in the frames of hives we inspected yesterday.    I placed the first batch in bird feeder that gave the bees plenty of access at the bottom, but provided shelter from rain.  I only put a small amount in and the bees crawled through the holes, through the inch high pollen, and became trapped in the feeder.   I understand why a little better now that we’ve watched them roll the powder around, roll around in the powder, and generally behave like little dung beetles rolling the powder up into little balls which they then take home with them.  By the end of the first day,  they had moved all the remaining powder to one end of the cookie sheet — and there was not much remaining.

Of course, my English hive has to be different and they are showing little interest in the powder that I laid out in a tray especially for them up in their private garden!   I did experiment with some supplement with sugar water and giving them a protein shake — they loved that.   Maybe they are just spoiled.  Maybe they like soup.   They were in the supplement dish this morning trying to get to the rain water-supplement mush.

When we were updating our hive inspection spreadsheet last night, we started a new page to track available resources by date.   Hubby had noted last year that the pollen death starts around the same time that the pink and white Crepe Myrtles bloom in our garden.    There was also a nectar dearth last year because of the drought, but this year the bees keep bringing in nectar, but not enough pollen.   We now know to watch for this next year and maybe get the pollen substitute out sooner.

We continue to battle small hive beetles, but we’ve cut the brush back from around the hives again and we know that helps.   I plan to put some landscape fabric down to minimize what can grow back, and we’ve also discussed relocating the hives over time.  The area right behind the hives is so very uneven, with trenches that are above knee-height, that we can’t bush hog in there until we do some leveling and clear some of the timber-harvesting debris.  We can’t continue to weed eat that much, but that’s what it takes to keep the blackberries and vines at bay.     The hives that are coming back from the sunflower field we definitely be in the other cleared lane and we’ll put some DE and landscape fabric down under the hive stands before we even go get them.   There is still so much to do and there is so little summer left — we really need to spend some time panning for gold down at the creek so that we can stay here forever!

 

Hive equipment · Home Remedies · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

Rain is a Good Thing

Luke Bryan sings that “rain makes corn…” but we are happy that rain also makes honey.   This time last year we were in a severe drought in both Georgia and South Carolina and our bees had few resources of their own to get them through the dearth.  Right now, there are no signs of a dearth in our hives;  we are seeing lots of nectar and a fair amount of honey in every hive.

Bees on sunflower
Bees on sunflower

The sourwood trees have just about finished blooming, and the sunflowers over at our neighbor’s are kicking into high gear with beautiful, dinner-plate sized blossoms.    We have three hives pollinating his sunflower plot and they are clearly loving life.   Sunflower honey is reputed to aid gastrointestinal, respiratory, and kidney health, although it has a downside of crystallizing faster than most other honeys.   We are hoping to harvest  sunflower honey in August, but we don’t know how much we’ll have this year as we only had new frames available to put in the hives and that is going to slow down honey production as the bees will first have to draw comb.   We’ll be better prepared next year.

Hives on sunflower plot
Hives on sunflower plot

We inspected some of the hives with bees that tend to crawl on the ground and up our pants legs yesterday, and the blousing garters we bought appear to be doing their job of keeping the bees on the outside of the pants legs!   Today was a much more enjoyable day as all three hives we inspected originate from the same queen and they are the kindest, gentlest bees we have.   They also appear to be very good at keeping pests at bay, although two of the hives had spiders in the lid which added some humor to the voice recordings!    The bees had killed one of the spiders, but it was still quite fresh and squished in the most disgusting way under hubby’s hive tool.    I have overcome my dislike of bugs enough to squish most hive pests, but I’ve apparently got a long way to go before I squish spiders — or stop screeching when I see one!

These hives also oddly avoid the bottom brood boxes on their hives and will only lay eggs in there when they absolutely have no other room.    We have often spotted swarm queen cells in an upper box of a hive that has plenty of room in the “basement.”   One hive even preferred to use the entrance at the top of the hive until we put a screen inner cover on for additional ventilation and thereby forced them to exit through the “normal” opening.

Screen inner covers offer more ventilation for bees, which is especially important here in the south and when transporting bees.   We’ve also observed wax moths and spiders on top of the screens, unable to enter the hive.   Since we switched to using these in summer, we have not seen a single wax moth inside a hive.    Our hives that always struggle with small hive beetles are also able to herd the beetles out of the hive proper and above the screen.   We were horrified yesterday at the number of beetles in two of the hives, but almost all of them were above the screen.   We added borax traps on top of the screens and we’re using beetle blasters inside each hive to help reduce the numbers.   We’re getting closer to denuding the area around the hives in our problem area as we know sunlight deters the beetles — there’s just so much timber-cutting trash mixed in with the vegetation in that area so we can’t simply bush-hog.

All-in-all, we are very happy with the progress our hives are making.   We no longer have any hives that are aggressive without provocation, although we have a couple that I would like to re-queen with stock from the “nice” hives.   We are not having to supplemental feed bees this July and we have recovered all of our winter losses.  We’ve gone a week with neither helicopters nor bee stings!   Life is good on the farm!

Bees · Hive equipment

A Sweet Reward

Swarm

Today was one of those awful days that ended a rather stressful work week followed by a text from hubby to remind me to get the oil changed in my car on the way home.   Geeeesh … didn’t he know I wasn’t in the mood to do that.  Or maybe he knew I was even less in the mood to have to ask him to take the car in for me.  Either way, surprise number one was that I do indeed have a cabin air filter in my car.  We’ve been told multiple times that I don’t, and the dust keeps piling up on the dash and the air conditioner blows warm air at the rate of a soft summer breeze.   Now the air from the vents almost blows my hair back out of my face!

Surprise number two was even better.  I made my usual evening walk around the yard and said hello to all my bee-buddies.  On the way back to the house, I noticed that the Major Wheeler Honeysuckle had new blooms on it.  That thing hasn’t stopped flowering all winter, but it is now adding buds like crazy — or was before we chopped a whole lot of it off about an hour ago.  While I was walking toward the fence to admire the flowers, I noticed something odd.  That something odd turned out to be a swarm of bees.

Swarm in the lattice

Swarms can be really good because they add genetic lines to the exiting apiary.   They are also good simply because they make me happy!  There were as many, if not more, bees behind the lattice as in front of it and almost all are now tucked away safe and warm in their new home.   We have not yet found the queen, but the bees did start to pageant into the NUC after a while, which is normally a good sign.  Temperatures are supposed to drop to the low 30s tonight, so we’re glad we caught them when we did.

We bent the lattice back and cut many of the vines to get the bees out of there.  Some that started flying around settled in another clump in the middle of the next sheet of lattice while others hid behind the fence post.   We got what we could with a bee brush and smoke and then tried a bee-vac on the remaining couple of handfuls.   We’re still not sure about the bee-vac — some bees got tangled up in the felt that they are supposed to bounce against and some appeared stunned, cold, or dead.  While we hate to lose any bees, trying to get a handful out of a tight corner was a better experiment than trying to suck up a full swarm.   We’ll have to find some non-living things to test levels of air-flow with.
 
Still, a day full of annoyances turned out to be an incredibly wonderful day after all.  This is the second swarm we have caught in two weeks — one just moved into the queen castle while we weren’t looking and started setting up house.   Our bees at the farm were bouncing back after their fight with the hive beetles last weekend, and we’ll soon have some more hives to take down there.