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

The Colors (and tasks) of Fall

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

Plants

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

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

20191110 FeedersBees

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

50 Hives and Counting….

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

According to Hubby’s spreadsheet, 50 hives going into the spring nectar flow is the magic number at which the apiary will become financially viable, based on honey sales alone.    We weren’t there at the start of spring this year, and probably won’t harvest any more honey this year as we’re letting our hives keep their nectar to build reserves for the dearth, but with the three splits I made yesterday, we do now have 50 strong hives.

Hubby has been working on new hive stands in a sunnier location than our first site, and the above three splits are the first occupants.  We want to move all of the hives from the first site because small hive beetles thrive in the shade there and the hives are too close to the planned house site.  Contractors may not be as thrilled as we are to watch bees head to the creek or fly around making orientation flights!   Before the big migration, we want to get carpet remnants under each stand to make life difficult for small hive beetles.  We already have quality landscape fabric along the whole run because it’s more fun checking hives when you don’t have to fight blackberry vines while doing so!

2019-07 Painting
Painting for fun and function.

Talking of checking hives, I only have four left to check for this round, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to make some more splits.   But my back hurt this morning, and it was hot and humid, and I just couldn’t face suiting up!   What’s the best (productive) thing to do on a hot humid day?   Well, pressure wash hive components and paint!   I repainted some wood ware last week, and most of what was left just needed a touch up on the hive numbers, so today was a low pressure day.   When we have a bunch of hive components that are all the same color, you can be pretty sure Hubby used the paint sprayer.   When we have a mixture, I hand painted.   We need the balance between efficiency and variety otherwise we’d run out of hive bodies.  Well, I need the variety — I love to look out at a colorful bee yard.

I can also rationalize a multi-colored bee yard because it reduces drifting.  Even when we have a number of similar hives, I try to paint the hive numbers in a variety of colors and add designs that help the bees find their ways home.   I have to admit that what drives me most is the joy of making things pretty.   Hubby and the bees don’t seem to care that I only ever took one art class in high school or that my flowers rarely look like anything found in nature.   Hubby likes to see me happy, and sometimes that means painting pink flowers, and sometimes it means designing a database!

My other summer project has been an Access database.  Our Excel spreadsheet for tracking hive inspections was becoming too cumbersome, so I gave Access another shot.   That I got nowhere with Access the past two summers says a lot about my stress levels back then as almost everything is falling into place now that I am relaxed and rested.  That brings me a different kind of joy than the colorful hives, especially as it’s proving useful.  Hubby asked me how many active NUCs we have last night, and I was able to tell him with just a few mouse clicks, so he kept throwing questions at me!  I was able to answer almost all of them with minimal effort.   There are still a number of reports that I want to develop, but they won’t be a chore as I love exercising that side of my brain sometimes.

Life has been especially good this week as Hubby didn’t have to work at his day-job.   We are so blessed to be surrounded by so much beauty.   We have a constant supply of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons, and the garden will be even bigger next year.  Life really doesn’t get any better than this!

2019-07 Lily Pond

Hive equipment · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Strong hives, fewer small hive beetles.

Changes:

We’ve made a few changes this year which have led to stronger hives.   We did complete inspections on 75% of the hives at the end of last week and saw maybe 20 small hive beetles in total.   Since moving here, we’ve seen that many in the lids of the hives in the worse corner of the apiary, but even the two we have left on that hive stand are pretty much beetle-free.   We add Beetle Blasters as soon as we see beetles on the frames,  but we know from previous years that there’s only so much they can do.

The first thing we did was treat the hives with ProDFM in spring.   A little goes a long way and I was able to treat more than 10 hives with the 3.5 ounce bag we bought to experiment with.   Most hives got off to a good start and started packing in pollen and nectar as soon as it was available.   We tried a different strategy on the hives that were slower to get up to speed.

Following Ian Steppler’s methodology,  we swapped (and continue to swap) a lot more frames from strong to weak hives.  We’ve always done that, to an extent, but this year we focused on leveling the hives and delayed making any splits.  That really paid off in the long run, and the splits we made later in spring were more successful.    When we came across a hive that was really weak, we did a newspaper introduction to a hive that had space for a frame or two more bees.  Again, the short term loss of one hive led to bigger gains in the future.

We are now setting splits up with more bees and resources and are seeing  them quickly coming up to speed.  We’ve moved underpopulated 8 and 10 frame hives to NUCs and we’ve used internal feeders as place holders when we think there aren’t enough bees to manage a full contingent of frames.

Back to beetles:

After watching some of Barnyard Bees’ videos about chickens and small hive beetles, I was ready to rush out and buy some game hens and laying chickens, but we don’t have time to build a coop or a run.  Between the coyotes, the eagle, and other assorted critters, we need to protect any fowl we bring here.

David talks about chickens and small hive beetles in a few videos — chickens just love the larvae.   In one video, he dumped out a bunch of bees in the chicken pen and let the chickens go to town on the beetles — and they didn’t mess with the bees.  He also recommended setting up bug zappers to manage wax moths, so we purchased a Black Flag zapper and see dead wax moths on it every morning.   Once we get power to the shop, we’ll add at least one more.

If you go to Barnyard Bee’s YouTube channel, also check out David’s video about why some swarms contain multiple queens — it explains why we found two queens out in the open in the lower apiary on Sunday.   Yep, Hubby has converted me to a YouTube watcher!

Honey:

We moved honey extraction to the RV this weekend and pulled what we expect to be our last harvest for 2019.   The biggest advantage of being in the RV was being able to turn the a/c off there and leave it on in the house.    After extracting 5 gallons of honey using a manual-crank extractor, it sure was nice to have a cool place to go drink some water before going back to the 90+ degree space for cleanup.

While the hives are currently full of nectar, we are about to go into a dearth and the bees will need what they’ve stored.   After the dearth, they’ll need to build up stores for winter during the Goldenrod flow, so we’d have to see a lot of excess honey to pull any more this year.

Dearth:

We actually thought we were already in pollen dearth as we didn’t see any pollen coming in during evening inspections.   However, we found some common sense, stopped suiting up when temperatures were in the 90s, and went back to checking hives in the morning; suddenly we saw lots of bright yellow pollen coming in.

There is plenty of bee bread and pollen on frames.  We’ve known for years that we are more likely to see bees on buddleia and buckwheat before 10:00 a.m. and on fennel in the evening, but we needed a reminder that we can’t judge a colony by what is going on in five minutes on one day.    But we also know to anticipate a pollen dearth before a nectar dearth in July.

Water:

Bee Life Rafts - small
Life rafts in the lily pond

Our bees have the luxury of a spring-fed creek very close to the hives, but they still too often decide to risk drowning closer to home!   They are especially attracted to splashing water, so they naturally like my lily pond.   It will be safer once the water lily leaves cover a wider area, but for now I made life rafts out of pool noodle slices. They are able to drink water that has wicked up through the cells as well as drink from the pond itself.   There have been no drownings so far.   I cut between a quarter and a half in slices and then joined them with yarn — joining them together was more to keep the wind from blowing individual slices all over the yard than anything else.

Well, the sun has dried the heavy dew off my freshly painted bookshelves, so I’m going back out to see whether I need to sand and start over or just keep painting.   Impatience got the best of me again, but I just had to see if the paint really looked as pretty on my classroom furniture as it did on the card!

 

 

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.