We have so much to be thankful for this year, as always. We have just started our 6th year as the owners this beautiful property and we continue to make progress. Our mobile home now has brick underpinning, the honey kitchen is framed in the workshop, and even more blackberries have been cut back. We also have official building plans. Like so many other people, we are now waiting for an available electrician for the honey kitchen and an affordable quote for the house, but we have a roof over our head, jobs, and good health.
As always, the tiny kitchen made baking the French tart challenging, and I spent a lot of time wishing for my new kitchen while getting ready for Thanksgiving meals. We are both trying to focus on our progress and not give in to the frustration of trying to get tradespeople out here! But we have a forever-house in our future and a small deck overlooking the creek that is perfect for day-dreaming about the view from the back porch of the house in due time.
Our somewhat rainy summer this year led to a record honey harvest. We were able to pull spring honey at the end of May and then summer honey when the sourwood trees stopped blooming in July. We are also going into winter with hives that have good stores of goldenrod honey. The two locations that we seeded with nematodes over the last few years now have minimal small hive beetle issues, and the new NUC yard has been a good experimental control as the hives there have been inundated with the pests. We’ll order another batch from Arbico in spring and get that area treated as well. Also, we have not had a single wax moth problem all year, which is cause for celebration in itself as those larvae and so disgusting and even the chickens won’t eat them.
The chickens are another blessing, although with 11 hens we have been somewhat over-blessed with eggs this summer. Now that they days are shorter and the two older are girls recovering from a molt, the number of eggs in manageable. We still have plenty to give to friends and family, but part of that is because we just simply needed a break from scrambled eggs for breakfast every morning!
I hope that life is as good for you, my readers, as it is for us here on the farm. I love the day after Thanksgiving, because the cooking and cleaning are done and I have time to look back through old blogs and see how far we have come with this wonderful adventure we are on. Now I need to get outside, take the dog for a run, and appreciate the farm from the other side of the office window!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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!
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!
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 nowherewith 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!
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!
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.
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.
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!