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.
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.
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!
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.
Last week we spent two days at the farm, went to workshops, and returned home for dental appointments. We had planned to head back to the farm yesterday, but that didn’t work out. We intended to check the bees in the out yards on Saturday, and are just getting around to doing so today. It’s been a busy weekend and week.
The good news is that I was able to get the bones of the website coded and uploaded. It took me a while to get back into writing HTML, but that part of my brain finally kicked back into gear and I’m happy with the design. I have used CoffeeCup Software for web design for at least 15 years, but this was my first time using their Responsive Site Designer to create a template which I then edited through the HTML editor. If I decide to start creating websites for other people again, I will probably buy and spend the time learning to use the site designer, but for now it was less of a learning (relearning) curve to just do things the old-fashioned way! I’ve also really enjoyed taking and editing photographs to use on the site. We still have to take inventory and then decide on pricing for items, but updating that won’t take me long at all. The deciding is going to be what sucks all the time out of the days ahead!
Brushy Mountain English Hive
We used one of the website pictures for our business cards so that the site and the cards have similar themes. We realized that we needed to get cards when we met many great people at the workshops last week. The business card picture features the English Hive that hubby won at the Bee Institute — we set it up next to one of our Adirondack chairs and I love sitting there watching the bees fly in and out.
Hubby also cut wood and built hive boxes, covers, and bottom boards, which I then painted. I do have to wonder about his math sometimes as I’m sure he told me there were 10 covers to paint. I stopped counting at 13….. Maybe he didn’t think I’d go outside to start painting if I knew the real scope of the project. (He’s probably right — it was HOT out there!)
Now we just have to replace the rusted-out bolts from a toilet tank, check the other toilets to see how close they are to springing leaks, vacuum seal and freeze the whiskey-honey ribs I cooked yesterday , and then maybe take a nap before deciding when to leave the big city for the peace and quiet of the country. Not being on the farm has been frustrating, but the days in the city have been productive and satisfying.
A friend who is hosting some of our bees in an out-yard sent us a recording of some bee-acrobatics this afternoon. He slowed the video down — it’s so interesting to see them, but even more so to hear them, in slow motion. (The audio is so much better on my phone than on my laptop speakers.) As much time as we’ve spent watching the critters land, take off, and collide, we are still fascinated with this clip. In fact, it’s taken me far too long to type this small paragraph because I keep going back to watch the video again.
Other updates from today: We are pretty sure we have a new queen. We saw her, and then lost her. She was on a packed frame and the bees were animated, so we moved that frame to a Nuc along with some brood, nectar, and honey, and we will check on them again mid-week. We didn’t see any eggs yet, so maybe we imagined a queen or maybe she hasn’t started laying yet.
The queen in our second strongest hive is laying at an incredible rate, so we filled the newly vacated slots in the queen castle with some frames from that hive — partly to try to grow another queen, but partly to discourage the lady from swarming.
The one worrisome hive in one of the out-yards had even fewer bees yesterday, so hubby evicted them and then gave them a twig to climb up to reach their new home in an established hive. As temperatures hovered around freezing last night with a wind chill that only made things worse, those guys probably would not have survived the night in their old hive. We still have no idea what happened to the queen. If we see evidence of a queen in the new Nuc, we’ll move that Nuc to the out-yard and shake some additional bees into it to get them off to a good start.
Our foster-parents are wonderful. One offered to build fires close to the hives to keep them warm last night, but hubby assured them that the bees would be able to stay warm enough on their own. We are so enjoying the interest that others are showing. I know we’re new at this ourselves, but we sometimes feel like old hands. We see both ourselves in these initiates and see how much we’ve learned in the past year. I’m still a little jumpy when bees are determinedly bumping into my veil, but I also think some of that is due to my going cross-eyed as my bi-focals try to focus concurrently on the bee, the veil, and the frames that are all at different distances!
It’s official — if we are going to expand the bee business, we need to build a workshop at the farm! We have bee boxes everywhere, and we have locations to set them up when the bees arrive at the end of the month. It’s been a lot of work getting everything painted, but it’s been fun and stress relief, too.
As you can see, we have no room in the garage and we still have boxes in the dining room. We have to put foundation in a bazillion frames over the next two weeks, and I’m hoping we can do that sitting in front of the TV because it sounds like tedious work. So tedious, that grading essays might be more enjoyable, especially as my students are writing very well right now.
The existing hives are doing well and we have had to add to each of them. I like seeing some of the new colors out there mixed in with our original blue boxes.
We realized that we will need to make multiple trips to get everything we need to move down to the farm before spring break, so we’re hauling a load of supplies down there later today. It will be good to stand on our land and see the early signs of spring for the first time. We’ve seen it late summer, fall, winter, and in torrential rain that was more befitting a hurricane coming in than a winter storm. If we can fit them on the truck, we’ll take a few plants down and get them in the ground too.
It will be a very quick trip there and back because we both have a bunch of deadlines for projects for our day jobs before spring break. It’s been too long since we sat around a camp fire with family, so a quick trip and a day dream is better than no trip at all. Of course, I’m hoping to find that giant gold nugget in our churned up soil so that I can be a step closer to sitting in our workshop, painting hive bodies and bird houses to my heart’s content.
We’ve had a good weekend working in the yard and painting hives in preparation for the bees we’re getting from the South Carolina Beekeepers Association on March 19th. We have enough hive bodies built and painted to accommodate the newcomers, and I’ll spend evenings this weekend decorating them and using the wood burning tool to permanently add our name to each piece of equipment. We did some hive maintenance and found good supplies of nectar, pollen, and brood and no evidence of mites or wax moths. After I cleaned up a little, I decided to take one last look at the hives before coming in to grade essays. That’s when a bee got itself tangled up in my hair band. I’m used to bees buzzing through my hair when I’m standing near the hives, but they have never stopped to say hello before today. When I pulled my hairband off, the angry little critter was still saying hello to my headband with its pulsating stinger! Now, all previous stings have been minor nuisances, but this one is giving me a headache like I haven’t had in years — despite the toothpaste rubbed into my scalp.
But, back to positives….. we have almost everything painted that needs painting, just in time for the nucs that were on backorder to arrive on Tuesday for next weekend’s painting marathon! I am getting closer to finding a good sized font for the name of our farm and I’m even getting better at painting the farm name free-hand. This kind of work outside in the spring sunshine is the perfect antidote to the stress I felt by the end of last week. It’s not that the week was much different to others, but at one point I thought I was caught up on the tedious side of teaching, such as filing paperwork and grading, and then I received a stack of essays to evaluate by Tuesday….. I will be able to score them relatively quickly, but I did so want to feel caught up for just one afternoon!
The seeds I planted last weekend are also trying my patience, but I checked the seed packets and saw that germination time for all of them is anywhere from 7 – 14 days, so I’ve resisted the urge to dig around in the potting soil to see what they are doing. But while painting I’ve been able to look at the first daffodils and crocus blooming. The bees are bringing in four different colors of pollen, and lots of it. Yes, my head still hurts, but it’s still a beautiful day and I look forward to seeing our bee business grow. (And to spring break and a week on the farm!) Life is good.