Bee Stings · Construction · Gardening · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee · Storage

Slowly Moving West

We have started taking plants and boxes of household goods to the farm — just what will fit in the vehicles each time and what we have had time to pack.  Most of the bee stuff is down there now, which makes getting around in the 40-foot container challenging!   Still, the bees are rapidly going through the frames we’ve built, so empty totes come back to the city with us in time to be refilled.

Shop Site
Shop Site

Building the shop has become a priority so that we have more space to put things and so that we have a clean space to sling honey this summer.  As we want to sell in Georgia, we need to be certified in Georgia.   Hubby spent most of the weekend leveling the shop site and was working on trenching to install conduit last time I talked to him.   (I came back early to get laundry done for the week.)    Our neighbor has been a great help, both in terms of giving advice and helping on the tractor.   His company will be pouring the slab next week and then the construction can start.  It’s exciting!

Spring border
Daffodil, iris, crinum lily, and other spring transplants.

Even though there was a lot to get done, hubby was still willing to help me get spring bulbs transplanted.  They’re all looking rather sad right now, but I know from experience that they’ll look great next spring, if not before.   The grass and wildflower seeds are doing well, and I added some clover seed and fertilizer yesterday.   If we can just get enough growing to slow down the erosion, we’ll have a less muddy driveway when we get those Southern downpours!   The drainage ditches hubby, my brother-in-law, and I have cut are making a huge difference, and plants will just be the final touch we need.

Smoker
Smoker with new bellows

Of course, we didn’t neglect the bees this weekend, even with all the other tasks we needed to accomplish.    We had to replace the bellows on one of our smokers, and we love this new Pro Bellow from Mann Lake.   There’s a nozzle at the bottom that blows air directly into the smoker, and that has made it easier to get the smoker lit.   I’ll let you know how it holds up, but for now I’m sold!

I intended to just check the queenless hives, but we ended up checking all the hives for space after seeing how much nectar the bees have brought in over the past week.   Two hives have already started capping honey, and I only saw three small hive beetles all day.  There were no new wasp nests started in lids, but there were enough cockroaches on top of inner covers to keep the hair on the back of my neck standing up!   Talking of hair — if you have short hair, don’t pull your hat too tight — hubby got stung on his head through his cap yesterday!

Bricks on hives
Bricks on hives to indicate which hives have queens, and which do not.

We continue to use a combination of methods to track what’s going on in hives.   A flat brick indicates that the hive has a laying queen, and an upright means that the hive is queenless.   In addition, I write notes on the lids with a Sharpie.  We have three hives with queen cells that have hatched since last weekend, but I didn’t see a queen yesterday, so I like having that history at my fingertips when I go to recheck.   Then we have a spreadsheet in which we track hive inspections, treatments, and mite counts.    That’s becoming quite time-consuming and I’m working on automating some of the reporting and tracking, although I probably won’t get much done until summer.   As my new school starts the new year 3 weeks earlier than South Carolina schools, and we need to get this house on the market, and build the workshop, and move my work clothes, I may not find much time to refine the database while keeping up with a growing apiary!    It’s a good set of problems to have!

We’re looking forward to May’s Mid-Carolina Beekeeper Association meeting on Tuesday.  Has it really been a month since the last meeting?   Time flies in spring, which is why we all have to get hive equipment ready in winter!

Enjoy the (finally) warmer weather and take time to smell the roses.

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 · Construction · Honey · RV rehab

Living on our land.

RV moved onto our land.

Thanks to BIL, BIL’s friend, and BH, our RV is now on our land and we went to sleep and woke up looking at tree tops — our tree tops!   Having never moved an RV before, I don’t know if it’s always such a bear to get one set up, but I do know that the new scissor jack that looks prettier than the others but refuses to work makes everything more complicated.   We also thought the pad was more level than it actually is, so if we ever do this again I’ll actually break out the level and see where we may need to add more gravel before parking the behemoth.   We’ve enjoyed sitting outside drinking our morning coffee and sitting outside at the end of the day watching the sun set.   It’s easier to notice all the wild life when we just sit still for a while.  We’ve also withstood our first thunderstorm, so we know that the fibreglass remained intact over the leaky roof bits.   We still have the other roof coating to put on, but it requires 24 hours of dry time, which means that we won’t be able to run the A/C once we paint it on.  The plan is to put it on when we have a dry morning before heading back to the city.   The plan may turn into putting it on when it’s cool enough to not need A/C.   After working outside in 98 degree heat the last few days, that sounds like a better plan to me.

Checking the English hive

Being out there first thing in the morning made it easier to check on our bees.   All of the hives except one are doing okay, but the dearth is definately upon us.   The queens are not laying and there is very little nectar in the hives.   There’s still pollen coming in, but no nectar.  We found the same thing happening when we got back to the city, although one queen is still laying well.  The new queen in my English hive is very active, but has not laid any eggs yet.  We put some sugar water out and hope that jumpstarts all the queens.

We had opened the English hive shortly after our new queen had hatched.  It was clear that she had dispatched most of her sisters, but there were two queen cells intact that we had hoped we got to before she did.   No dice.   The two-frame section of the queen castle in which we installed the cells with a couple of frames of bees from another hive contained only a few dead bees, some hive beetles, and wax moth trails.   We were disappointed and took the frames over to the shed so that we could put them in the freezer as soon as we took the suits off.   Hubby put the smoker and hive tool up, took off his jacket, turned around to pick up the frames, and, lo-and-behold, there was a brand new queen searching the frames.   Of course, all the queen isolation stuff was in the garage, but we did manage to get her into a queen cage and installed into the castle with a couple of frames of bees, larvae, and honey.     We’re pretty sure we have a drone congreation area in our yard as we have found an abnormal number of queens and I’ve even had mating bees clinging to my tshirt!

Figs, July 11, 2016

Finding the queen would have been enough excitement for one day, but we also picked 3 pounds of figs that ripened while we were gone.   I currently have mason jars sterilizing in the dishwasher and will start making jam just as soon as I finish my second cup of coffee.   I want to try using honey instead of sugar (or using a mixture of the two) this year, but I’ll do that with a small batch later.    Honey-whiskey ribs are already a big hit in our house.   I have an entire book of honey recipes to try, so we’ll keep feeding the bees in hopes that they will feed us in return.