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!
Spring was good to us with its profusion of blackberry blossoms which yielded hives full of pale and delicious honey. We put our daughter and her boyfriend, JI, in bee suits for the first time and had them smoking and brushing bees, which they greatly enjoyed. (I’m glad that I was the only one who got stung on their first excursion to the bee yard! I even restrained my remarks to the bee that crawled up my boot. )
We only checked honey supers above excluders and were still able to pull 95 pounds of honey. There are full supers with frames that were 3/4 capped last weekend, so we’ll have more to process in the near future.
As the workshop is still in disarray, we extracted the honey in the kitchen with the four of us working very well together in the cramped space. JI is a natural at decapping frames and we all took turns cranking the handle on the extractor. I’d covered the island with a sheet and put towels down on the floor, so clean up was a breeze. With water and electricity at the shop now, we were able to pressure wash the equipment. I even had enough energy left to pressure-wash the wood ware that I plan to repaint sometime this week. (Or do I mean next week? What day is it? I love summer break!)
The main nectar source right now appears to be elderberry, and the bees are still visiting buckwheat early in the day. I’m very happy to see them on the lavender, but I don’t yet have enough lavender for it to make a difference. I just read that varroa mites don’t like the way lavender smells, so lavender pollen and nectar can help protect bees. (Source: Plants for honey bees) That makes me want to go out and clip more cuttings right now, but I need to wait a while as the plants are currently in full bloom.
I did cut some blooms a couple of days ago for my first attempt at making lavender infused honey. I know I need more, but I really want to leave as many flowers on the plant for bee-forage as possible. Some of the recipes I looked at require heating the honey, which I prefer not to do, so I am following a recipe from NectarApothecary.com that takes 4 – 6 weeks. I do not have dried blooms, so I know there’s a risk that fresh flowers will make the honey crystallize, but I’m not worried about that as I plan to add it to tea or simply eat it by the spoonful when I have a sore throat! I know I’m not supposed to disturb the honey, but I can’t resist taking the lid off to inhale the incredible aroma now and then. It’s only a matter of time before I dunk a teaspoon in, so there may not be much left in the jar by the end of the six weeks….
Today we get to find a home (other than the living room) for the Honey Keg and pour our liquid gold into it for storage and eventual easy bottling. I couldn’t find my mason jars and lids the other day, so it may be time to just have a case of pre-sterilized containers shipped in. Our previous process of ladling honey into jars in the kitchen sink is going to take too long, but I’m not going to complain about how much honey we have. After all, our progress means we’re one step closer to being able to retire from our day jobs!
It’s another beautiful day on the farm, and we finally have a chance of rain in the forecast. Cucumbers, grapes, blackberries, and tomatoes are all getting closer to being edible. We got to eat four incredible blueberries from one of the new bushes yesterday. The workshop passed the building inspection yesterday. Best of all — we no longer have to worry about what is going on with our old house and can now focus on framing the honey shop in the workshop. It just simply doesn’t get any better than this!
….the buyer’s home inspection showed a slight leak under the master bath and a couple of other minor issues that we needed to take care of. (There was no leak at the time we had a home inspection done.) We had someone come in to do estimates for the repairs and he said the wax ring on the toilet needed to be replaced. We’re not sure how he knew that, but sometime over the following weekend, the water supply line to the toilet sheared off (not a normal PVC break) and flooded the house. The bamboo floors in the master bedroom and closet have to be torn out, some of the bathroom tiles have cracked because of damage to the sub-floor, the padding has to be replaced under the brand-new carpet in the dining room, and the dining room wallpaper may need to be replaced. Luckily, the insurance adjuster is working directly with the contractor on repairs, so things should be moving forward, but work will almost certainly not be done before closing on Thursday. Of course, we’ll have to pay our deductible and we’re really concerned about how much our next water bill will be, but so far the buyers want to move forward with the sale.
Still, life is good on the farm. We are back up to 37 hives and most are packed with nectar. The blackberry flow was really good this year, and the wild flowers are continuing to bloom. We have buckwheat planted in a few areas, and it is coming along quite well. There are even a few over-achievers blooming already! The rest should bloom when many of the wild flowers fade, so we’ll be able to delay the nectar dearth. We should be able to mow once the buckwheat goes to seed and then let it grow and bloom again. By then it may be too hot for that, but as buckwheat is an excellent soil conditioner and cover crop, it will help either way.
The first lavender blooms are opening and all of the plants have survived pruning! I let the lavender in the city get too “leggy,” and it’s been scary to prune this batch as much as is recommended. In fact, I pruned a little less than recommended this time, but the results show that I need to have faith in the multiple sources I read.
We already have a constant supply of strawberries. Grapes, thornless blackberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons all look promising. I plan to harvest some wild blackberries for jam, but the thornless ones are so much easier to deal with! One blueberry bush has twice as many blueberries as last year, but don’t get excited — we had 5 last year! The other two bushes are doing well, but didn’t flower this year as we moved them a couple of months ago.
Surprise, surprise, we are also almost at the end of the school year. I’m so used to teaching into June that I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that next week is the last one for seniors. Some seniors stopped coming to class over a week ago, which has me concerned about them maintaining a passing grade, but hopefully they’ll be back tomorrow. We also got to the end of standardized testing last week, and teachers and students alike are glad to have that over with! It’s been an interesting year, as any first year at a new school is, and I’m glad that school will be over before Memorial Day. It was always such a struggle to keep students focused after Memorial Day, especially students who took AP and IB exams at the start of May.
So, soon I’ll be back in the bee yard and garden full time, unless I’m in the kitchen canning the results of our labors. We only have half a cup of honey left from two years ago, so we’re looking forward to harvesting this year. The exterior workshop construction is complete, but we won’t start on building the honey extraction room until after we sell the house, so we may be extracting in the kitchen again!
With the workshop done, Hubby was able to change the blades on the cutter, so we’re taking it in turns to get “tractor therapy” and bush-hog the cleared areas. After 3 years, the blackberries have given up and the Dutch White Clover has settled in, so we want to keep that maintained. Plus, I don’t want to have to worry about what’s hiding in the long grass when I go to the well house or compost pile.
Here I am, starting another topic, when daylight is burning and I have trees to plant! We bought a healthy black walnut at the Cotton Pickin Fair yesterday, and I’m going to ride down to its new home on the golf cart and get it in the ground before I start another hour writing and uploading pictures.
Here’s hoping life is as good in your world as it is here at the farm. Let’s just forget about the annoying house in the city!
A couple of years ago, we had an erosion problem along the driveway and I had some left-over seed packets, so I sowed carrots, cabbage, and who-knows-what-else in front of the “garden” where the English hive resides. I’d read that both carrots and cabbage produce nectar sources at times when nectar is scare, and I figured that the carrot tubers would have to break up the cement-like clay at least a little. Well, now the carrots are blooming, and it’s a wonderful sight, especially with a large variety of pollinators visiting.
According to The World Carrot Museum, carrots are biennial and require a cold snap to produce seeds in their second year. Well, the extended period of below-freezing temperatures certainly seems to have done a good job with that this year. Some of the flower stalks are at chest height and there is an abundance of blooms.
HoneyBeeSuite says that carrot honey has an aroma reminiscent of chocolate, and what could be better than honey and chocolate? I doubt that we have enough plants to really be able to taste that, but it’s certainly an incentive to plant more carrots that we don’t intend to harvest for food.
Buckwheat honey, on the other hand, has an earthy flavor that people either seem to love or hate. Again, I doubt that we have enough buckwheat planted to really get an idea of what true buckwheat honey tastes like, but we do have two areas of buckwheat growing that will provide nectar a month apart from each other. I’ll continue to sow at intervals to help the bees through the nectar dearth that we all know is coming. The bloom time on the fall crop we planted last October was only a couple of weeks, but the bees were all over it while it lasted. My hope is that it will self-seed enough to keep a nectar supply going. Its self-seeding habit can become a problem if it’s planted where it’s unwanted, but it’s also a great crop to till under before it seeds to improve soil quality, if that’s what you want. It seemed like the perfect solution for the area that will eventually become a garden and orchard, but for now just needs something growing to slow down water run-off.
Hubby is currently inspecting hives, but a quick look yesterday showed that all are thriving. He took 80 large frames with him, so between those and all the medium frames we already have at the farm, he can continue to provide room for growth for the next couple of weeks. Me — I’m home sniffing and sneezing. Allergies or a cold? Who knows, but I was too muddled-headed to drive to the farm last night. With Tropical Storm Alberto on the way, staying home and maybe packing some more boxes doesn’t feel so bad, although I hate to miss a long weekend at the farm.
Hubby had to drive down early to meet the mobile home representative to make sure we can get our new small-home onto the lot and discuss whether we need to remove any trees to get it into the space currently occupied by the RV. We weren’t expecting the new home for 8 – 10 weeks as we had to custom order one with a propane stove and furnace, but we could have it as soon as in 3 – 4 weeks, according to current estimates. Once again, our priorities have shifted and getting the infrastructure in place now takes precedence over getting the workshop erected. Still, that makes selling the city house easier as we’ll be able to move some furniture directly to the mobile home and store only what doesn’t fit. We’re also planning a moving sale as we have quite a lot of stuff that we really don’t like enough to pay storage fees and we’re going from a four bedroom house to a one bedroom (plus the mobile home) for retirement.
There’s a lot going on right now, and it’s a little overwhelming at times, especially as I am also packing up my classroom and deciding what to keep. I have so much student work that brings back such great memories from the past 10 years, but it’s taking up more and more space every year. Maybe I just need to take the good camera in to work one day and photograph everything so that I can keep the memories while minimizing the number of boxes to transport and store. Making those decisions in two different locations is stressful for someone like me who still has every piece of artwork and every card given to me by my now-grown daughters. I’m even hanging on to an empty poster tube because it’s one of the last things I received with my mother’s handwriting on the mailing label! Maybe we need to build the downsized house, but add climate-controlled building for sentimental stuff I just can’t let go of! Just don’t tell Hubby I said that……