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

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

The cucumbers are abuzz!

20190609 Bee Drinking
Bee drinking

It’s June 9, and we’ve already surpassed May’s 3.9-inch rainfall total; most of the rain has fallen in the last three days and there is more to come.  My heart goes out to all of the people who were already living with floods and certainly did not need this rain, but at the same time I am grateful that our Georgia drought has been somewhat alleviated.

20190609 Bees on Cukes
Bees on cucumber and melon bed.

I took advantage of a break in this morning’s rain to take the honey-covered blossoms from my lavender-infused honey outside for the bees to clean up and heard a roar of bees coming from the cucumber bed.   It wasn’t quite loud enough to be a swarm, but it was far louder than usual — about the volume of a small hive.  Lo and behold, bees of all kinds were taking advantage of the  blossoms that were sheltered from the rain and still had nectar to offer.   One bedraggled bumblebee was even hanging upside down trying to dry off.    The fennel in the background of the top image has been a big hit with the bees the past few days, but it got knocked around in the 60 mph gusts the other day and we’re worried it may not recover.  Likewise, about a third of our corn was flattened, and the tomato cages were knocked askew.   We’ll try to stand all of these back up once this weather system passes — our efforts between downpours have been futile!

20190609 Veggies
June 9 – Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Lemon Cucumber, and Cucumber.

We’re a couple of days away from tasting our first lemon cucumber.   The one in the bottom right frame is about half the size of the ripening one.  I checked the big one yesterday and it’s still green.  According to High Mowing Seeds, lemon cucumbers are edible but crunchy when light yellow and at their best right before turning the color of a lemon.   I’ll be careful checking anything in that bed from now on as the biggest millipede or centipede I’ve ever seen hitch-hiked it’s way back into the house with me!  I just tried to identify which type it is, but just looking at the pictures makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.   It doesn’t help that the thing either bit or stung Hubby when he came to my rescue.

(Hubby was kind enough to look it up for me.  It was a centipede and they do inject venom when they bite.  However, they eat soft-bodied insects such as spiders and aphids, so they are welcome in the garden, just not in the house.)

20190607 Maggie
Maggie with her duck

Maggie has been doing better with this round of storms.  She doesn’t shake anymore or insist on being held like a lap dog.  However, she does “hide” under her duck when the going gets tough!   Right now, she’s wandering around checking out all the new smells and is quite content to be outside without her humans.   She’ll be even happier if we grab the golf-cart keys and head out to join her — one more cup of coffee and we’ll be out the door until the rain drives us back inside.

Cooking · Home Remedies · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Our biggest harvest yet – 95 lbs of honey.

May honey 2019
May honey, 2019

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.

Decapping
Decapping

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.

Honey May 2019
My first attempt at lavender-infused honey.

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….

Honey KegToday 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!

 

Bees · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - General

Buckwheat Nectar

Buckwheat bees
Buckwheat nectar source

During the week, it’s hard to see whether or not the bees appreciate the quarter acre of buckwheat we have planted for them because the nectar dries up in the heat of the day.   Temperatures have been in the 90s this week, so it doesn’t take long for the blooms to run dry.    There was a loud hum in the garden this morning, so I came back indoors to get the camera and then spent about 20 minutes looking closely at the buckwheat through the lens.  (I gave up when I heard something rustle around the cucumbers as I wasn’t appropriately dressed to encounter any snakes.)

bumble bee on buckwheatI’ve seen red wasps on the buckwheat in the evening, but this morning was all about the bees – honey bees, bumble bees, and tiny bees that I don’t have a name for.    Butterflies are making the best of the pink clover, and the dog was fascinated by something in the wood line.   All in all, it was the perfect way to start the day.

So now I’ve had sufficient coffee,  it’s time to start on chores, the first of which is get the RV ready for guests.   We have only been in there to access the freezer or work on craft projects since we moved into the mobile home in June, so the critters have had free run of the place.   Now that the kids are coming in for the weekend, it’s time to evict the squatters and clean up their mess!   Hubby put some traps out last night, but I’m hoping that the mess-makers were only in there over the coldest days of winter.   (After disturbing a mouse while packing up my classroom, I know that’s a futile hope.)

First tomatoes of 2019
First tomatoes of 2019

While I’m not looking forward to cleaning, life is still good on the farm.   Another school year is over and I can look back on a year during which my students made a lot of progress.  Then I can look around the farm and see what a difference living here full time has made.   Finally I can look at the tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons that are growing so very well and promising healthy eating in just a few weeks.   I love this place!

 

Construction · Gardening · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Products and Vendors

4 days away from selling the house, but….

broken line
Broken Water LIne

….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.

buckwheat-COLLAGE
Buckwheat May 2019

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.

May 5-COLLAGE
Plants May 5, 2019

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.


SchoolSurprise, 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.

Workshop
Workshop

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!

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Pests - Bees · Pests - General · Products and Vendors

Bee Safe!

Amaryllis
Amaryllis – April 2019

Once again we’re under a tornado watch, but the danger is a lot less than a month ago.  We should be out from under the thunderstorms by this afternoon.  Meanwhile, I’m sitting here looking at the rivulets running along the side of the drive and at our beautiful grassy area going across to the well house.  The White Dutch Clover is well enough established to bloom in many places.   Of our 20 acres, we probably have 15 covered with blackberry bushes in full bloom right now.   There is a lot of crimson clover in the orchard.   Everything is really beautiful, but there’s not a bee to be seen on all the things we’ve planted for them.  (Not that we planted the thorny blackberry vines, but we will always leave some patches as a nectar source.)    The bees are clearly finding plenty of resources elsewhere as all hives have multiple frames full of nectar and the bees are drawing lots of beautiful new comb.   As always, we have to recognize that the bees know what the hive needs at this point in time, and they will gather what they want.   We see lots of bees returning from the direction of the creek, so they are either heading toward the deciduous trees or going across the creek to the forest land that was cleared 18 months ago.

I checked most of the hives over spring break — the first week of April.   We are applying ProDFM for the first time this year and seeing good results.   Of course, it’s always difficult to determine whether or not the bees would have done as well without our intervention, but treated hives appear to be thriving better than those we did not treat.   Some of our hives had bees on about half the frames 10 days ago and are now bursting at the seams.  A few hives have open brood and eggs covering four or more frames.

I checked hives that I didn’t get to over break yesterday and pulled out frames with eggs and 1 – 3 day brood and Hubby started our second grafting attempt.  That turned out to be a very efficient way to do that, and after harvesting, we placed those frames into NUCs for walkaways.   That also enabled us to add empty frames to high producing hives.  We didn’t see any swarm cells in those hives yet, but the hives are producing lots of drones, so we need to do what we can to discourage swarm tendencies.

hatched queen cells
Hatched queen cells from grafts

We had 75% success the first time we attempted grafting, but work and weather got in the way of us checking the grafts in a timely manner and the queens hatched and left!   I saw one small queen in the hive that same week, but she must have lost her way on a mating flight.   This time we have NUCs set up to receive any good queen cells.    We split two angry hives into NUCs and only grafted from mellow and productive hives.  If the NUCs build their own queen cells over the next few days, we’ll pinch those off and give them a queen that is more likely to be one we can work with.    (Hubby ended up having to taking shelter under the garden sprinkler to deter some bees that need an attitude adjustment yesterday!)

Our hive beetle problem-corner remains an issue despite a variety of things we’ve tried.   I moved one 10-frame to a NUC over break and that NUC had almost no bees yesterday and a sickening number of SHM larvae wiggling away on the frames.  Hubby is now moving healthy bees from the lower apiary to our sunnier upper apiary, but he’s not moving hives up from that one corner.    We will move them to other benches in the lower apiary and treat them, but we don’t want to risk infesting what is currently a good location.   We have had some luck with putting old carpet under one of hive stands in the lower apiary and we’ll use up old carpet that we brought from the house under our new hive stands.   Cheap landscape fabric, Diatomaceous Earth,  and a variety of SHB traps did nothing for the corner closest to the spring although all of those methods helped elsewhere.   We have better landscape fabric under all hive stands in the upper apiary, and we think that is helping.

Raised beds
Raised beds and remaining seedling trays

Talking about landscape fabric, Hubby has built two raised beds so far and we are using heavy landscape fabric on those as well as on the new blueberry and boysenberry patch.   Four varieties of heirloom tomatoes are thriving in the first raised bed and Lemon Cucumber seedlings are ready to be moved into the second one.   The older we get, the less we want to bend down to weed any kind of garden, so raised beds are the way to go!  With rainfall like we just had, they are also a good way to keep soil amendments where we need them instead of seeing them wash down to the creek!   Hubby stacked the blocks without using any mortar to enable us move the beds if they don’t work well in their current location and to allow excess water to escape.   Hubby is going to build a smaller bed for asparagus and everything else will have to live in old Home Depot buckets this year! We’ve gone from gardening in the sandy soil of Columbia, SC to gardening in clay.   I must say that almost all of our transplants are doing far better here than they ever did at the old house.

There’s lots of “Hubby did this” and “Hubby is going to do this” in this post, but that’s not because I’ve become a lady of luxury.   I’m a very frustrated bee-keeper dealing with tendonitis in my right ankle/calf!   I made a lot of progress over spring break, but walking around the classroom last week set me back again.  Still,  my ankle looks and feels a whole lot better than a month ago, and I know from past experiences that being patient now provide a better outcome by summer.   Not that I’m really being patient — I guess being proactive would be a better term.   When have I ever been patient?

The storms have passed and the rain has stopped, so it’s time for me to take a trip around the farm in the golf cart before settling down to grade essays and write lesson plans.   Hubby has also cooked something that smells delicious, so eating is probably my first priority.   We have come through another storm front without damage and bees, trees, and vegetables are all doing well.   Life is good on the farm.

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources

Happy Bees, Happy Teacher

I’ve been away from the keyboard for far too long.  Well, I haven’t really been away from the keyboard, I’ve just been typing lesson plans instead of blogging.   School starts early here in Georgia!

After multiple weekends of focusing on all the regular start-of-school year tasks, I took time with the bees and on the tractor yesterday.   The bees are still doing well, despite (or maybe because of) our lack of attention.   I did have to add space to a couple of over-achieving hives and the new queen in the castle was running around all fat and happy but not laying any brood.   That hive didn’t have many resources, so I moved them over to a NUC, added a frame of brood with bees, and topped them with a mason jar feeder.  We’ve never experienced robbing with the mason jars, but the internal frame feeders didn’t work out too well with weak hives last year.

I don’t know if my mental calendar is off because I started teaching a month earlier than usual or if this is just a good year for the bees, but we don’t appear to have much of a dearth this year.   The bees are bringing in dark ochre pollen this week and most hives have nectar.  Foragers are ignoring the syrup bucket and the trial handfuls of pollen I’ve thrown out.   Last week’s pollen was mainly a pale cream color, so there is a variety of natural food out there for them.   At least the bees still need us to keep the wild muscadine vines and the brambles away, although they don’t seem to object to have a little cover to hide the entrances to their homes.

We are also having fewer issues with small hive beetles this year.   The new location and the landscape fabric under the hives seem to be working out.   We also continue to trap wax moths on top of the screen inner covers and I no longer feel squeamish when squishing them!    I came the closest I have ever been to squishing a spider yesterday, but chickened out at the last moment!   I swear that thing had ambitions to become a tarantula!

I really miss  reading the blogs of all the wonderful people I follow, but I think life will get back to normal very soon.   The first weeks of a school year are hectic everywhere and changing schools just adds a little more to the mix.   I love my new school and the community it’s in.   There are only 400 students in the high school and almost 800 people attended the football game Friday night.   I met 80 parents on meet-the-teacher night before school started.    The school year is off to a good start and coming home to bees and trees is so relaxing!

Life is good on the farm, and I’ll catch up on everyone’s blogs just as soon as I can!