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!
December 21 is not the ideal time to discover that I actually only have 5 have Christmas cards in my desk drawer instead of the anticipated full box. I guess I didn’t buy my normal stash on clearance at the end of last year. Or maybe I did, and they are in some weird place. Despite my best intentions, I still have not yet organized my side of the office since we moved the big desk in here. When was that? Sometime in the past 6 months, I think…..
Then I received a text message to remind me of a follow up appointment with my doctor. Has it really been two weeks since I was there? Is the new blood pressure medicine doing it’s job? There are more questions than answers in my head right now.
The good news is that yesterday was the last day of school until January 2 and maybe I can find my missing brain cells over the next two weeks. The weeks since Thanksgiving have been as hectic as any other school year for Hubby and me, but we have been less stressed than in years past. We’re determined to put a Christmas tree up in our 13 x 13 foot living room this year, and Hubby is on his way to the storage building to see if the one we have will fit. Not only did we go from 2400 square feet to 740 square feet, we went from 10 feet ceilings to whatever they are in this mobile home. I know the ceilings aren’t high enough to risk installing a ceiling fan, but how tall is the tree we’ve had for years?
It was warm enough to check hives and add some candy boards last week. Some of the hives we were concerned about now have enough bees to ease our minds, and adding a little sugar for cold, wet days should help them make it until spring. We’re not adding a large quantity of sugar this year as we ended up with a wasteful mess last year. Now that we’re living here full time, it will be easy to add sugar as needed. We seldom go for more than a couple of weeks without at least one day above 60 degrees here, so we have a huge advantage over beekeepers to the north. We are also keeping the pollen feeder full of pollen substitute mixed with powered sugar so that the bees have something to find when they insist on foraging. I went to check the feeder this morning, and bees were already on it despite the 50 degree temperature.
The November swarm we caught is even doing well. There was only one frame of bees the day after they moved in, but they now have three. Maybe more bees showed up after that first day, or maybe the queen was determined to bump up her numbers. It was not a good time of year for them to swarm, but luckily they did so on a day when I was in the bee yard. There’s so much logging going on around us that we suspect they are wild bees whose home was destroyed. Maybe they are even renegade bees that swarmed away from us sometime in the past and have now come back to where it’s safer and there’s a buffet set up! Either way, we’re always glad to add to the genetic mix.
Well, I need to run to the store and buy whatever Christmas cards I can find and then get busy doing what I always intend to complete Thanksgiving weekend! More about the bee yard later…..
The weekend before the drought ended, I turned the soil in the remaining compacted section of the timber company’s loading deck and we sowed a mixture of annual rye, fescue, and White Dutch Clover. The rains came, and we have lush green grass with an under-story of clover over a few acres of recently cleared land as well as on the deck. More importantly, we have eliminated the erosion problem that has plagued us for almost 5 years now. Oh – and by cleared land, I mean Hubby pushed back some more of the undergrowth between trees so that we could have more room for clover and fewer thorny plants.
We lost one of the magnolia trees planted by the gate in the drought, so when I’ve finished my coffee and this blog, we’re going to plant some camellias and gardenias on that side of the gate so that we have evergreen plants of a manageable size that are beautiful in spring and summer. I was able to bring some gardenia cuttings from South Carolina, but was unable to get any cuttings from the camellia plants to take root. By the time we finish that, it will be warm enough to continue getting the bees ready for next week’s cold snap.
We constantly had problems with leaky lids (mainly when I put the lids on) when we used bucket feeders, so we’re trying open feeding with our internal feeders right now. The hives I checked yesterday have a good deal of nectar, but very little bee bread. We put the pollen feeder back out a few days ago and the bees are hitting it almost as hard as the syrup feeders. The pollen feeder was a great success during the summer dearth and it was easy to clean up once the fall blooms started.
I went out to refill the syrup while it was still cold enough for the bees to be indoors this morning, but it was not cold enough to intimidate the yellow jackets, so we had to add yellow jacket traps around the feeders. Those guys irritated me non-stop last weekend while I was applying a non-skid paint to our ice-rink of a deck!
Hubby was at work yesterday, and the small syrup tank was empty, so I rustled up some bravery and started the gas-operated pump to cycle the syrup in the large tank and then fill the small tank. Well, it didn’t look like anything was happening once I got the motor started, so I pulled the exit hose out to take a look. It’s a pretty powerful motor, so once the hose was out (and, yes, the syrup was moving), it wouldn’t go back in. One sugary shower and a change of clothes later, I got syrup transferred over and had to evacuate the area because every yellow jacket and bee from a 5-mile radius appeared to show up for a free lunch! I suspect I still have syrup in my hair.
A couple of week ago, I read a blog by Ron Misha about winterizing hives. He mentioned that his father used to hang a piece of burlap out of the hive lid to wick moisture out of the hives in winter. We have a roll of burlap, so I am trying that. We’re going from a record-breaking warm October to lows in the 20s this week, and the hives have more nectar than honey in them. We’ll add candy boards going into December, but this weekend is all about getting the bees through the coming week. I combined the weakest hives I came across yesterday and shook bees into others that will struggle to stay warm. I’m still rebuilding strength in my arms and hands after this summer’s neck problems, so I did not get as far yesterday as I would have liked. However, the good news is that I stopped when I noticed that I was getting clumsy because my hands were tired. Sometimes it’s good to be stubborn and push through, and other times it’s better to apply common sense.
I was going to write about some great changes to our landscape and our renewed indecision regarding where to place the house, but I think that needs to wait for another time. It’s way to pretty outside to sit at a computer for hours, especially when bad weather is going to keep us inside for the next few days. Stay happy. Stay warm. And remember that life is good on the farm!
The Sourwood trees (nectar source) and Devil’s Walking Stick (pollen and nectar source) are on the cusp of flowering, and last week bees were not interested in pollen substitute or sugar syrup, but now they are ravenous waiting for late summer blooms to start. We’ve noticed a recent decline in resources stored in hives and queens have slowed down laying brood, so they and we knew the dearth was coming.
We’ve had a lot of success with Bee Pro pollen the last two years. I have four pollen feeders out around the farm and each needs to be refilled at least once a day. Two feeders are covered, and I only use the uncovered trays in times of high demand as the bees don’t like it as much once it turns to mud during our afternoon thunderstorms! As you can see from the above picture, I need to refill feeders before foragers are out and about and estimate how much they’ll consume before the rains come. There’s no way I’m getting between them and what’s on the tray without a bee suit, and there would have to be a better reason than that to suit up in 100 degree heat! However, despite the recent weather forecasts, the rain hasn’t even moved the rain gauge even though thunder has sent us indoors the last few days, so little pollen substitute has gone to waste.
We’ve moving away from open feeding syrup as we only want to feed our bees and not every nectar-sipping insect in a 5-mile radius. Hubby is setting up the tank for first time use: as it is set up in the picture, the pump will cycle syrup to keep the sugar and water well mixed , and it will also pump syrup through the red hose into a smaller tank that sits on the ATV or golf cart. The smaller tank has its own pump, so we’ll be able to easily refill internal feeders or feeder pails. That will be a big improvement over loading up gallon milk jugs and liter soda bottles with syrup in the kitchen and driving them around to hives we are already feeding. For one thing, it will keep me from spilling sugar all over the kitchen floor!
We’ve had some robbing problems when internal feeding late summer in the past, so we’ll have to keep hives strong enough to fend off invaders when using division board feeders. We have some entrance feeders to use with weaker hives, but we don’t want to block entrances completely in this heat. As with everything else, supplemental feeding is a balancing act and I’m glad that I’m home during much of summer to keep an eye on things. We merged a couple of weak, queenless NUCs into other hives this week rather than risk them dying while trying to defend a feeder.
Hubby has also been researching beneficial sunflowers as another July pollen and nectar source. We placed some hives on a neighbor’s sunflower field a couple of years ago, and the hives came back with no resources and sick bees. Apparently it’s good to know what kind of sunflowers you’re looking at. Bee Culture reports that sunflower pollen is beneficial for bee health, but other sources report that some sunflowers produce a sticky substance in which bees can become stuck which reduces the number of field bees. As the aforementioned hives had surprisingly few foragers, we’re guessing our neighbor plants sticky sunflowers! We’re going to plant some Lemon Queen sunflowers as articles consistently recommend them for bees. We may even try to plant some this year….. or maybe not as another thunderstorm just moved through without leaving a drop of rain.
As always, natural food sources are the best and supplemental feeding means we won’t pull any honey even if we think it was stored while nectar was still flowing.
All this thinking about feeding bees has made me hungry, so I guess it’s time to head into the kitchen and prepare something for us. We were both so tired after planting 30+ shrubs and trees yesterday that we didn’t eat a real supper, but more about that another day.
Last Sunday afternoon, we listened to so many tornado warnings that we lost count. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the watch/warning system, a tornado watch means that weather conditions are favorable. A warning means that an active tornado has been sighted or that radar has a strong indication that one has formed in the vicinity, so more than 5 warnings makes for a stressful afternoon. Here in Georgia, most tornadoes are shrouded in rain, so they are less visible than in other areas of the country, which doesn’t help the nerves. The one that touched down came within 300 yards of our niece’s and her husband’s house, then came through south of our land and north of BILs. We had no damage at all here, but, sadly, the county seat sustained significant damage.
The tornado swept through Talbotton between the school and the court house, destroying homes and taking down beautiful old trees. Click here to see pictures. It’s been heart-breaking to drive through town to and from work this week. On Monday, so many trees were down and so many news crews were parked along the narrow road that it was hard to see much else. As the week progressed, the debris close to the road receded, but that made the extent of the damage more apparent in many ways. Still, when we look at the loss of life and the more severe damage to the west of us, we know it could have been worse.
Once the storm passed, we had three nights of below freezing temperatures. We’d attempted our first queen grafting on Saturday and completed a quick check of all the hives. We were a little concerned about having enough bees in the grafting hive, and quite concerned about the bees being able to cover all the wonderful brood we saw in the other hives. As soon as temperatures were above 60, all of the hives were active and there is minimal evidence of chill-brood cleanup.
We checked the grafting frame on Thursday and are happy with the success rate of our first attempt. The cell walls are weaker than we’d like, but we have queens. One of our hives is in severe need of a new queen — or a can of Raid! (Just kidding about the Raid.)
It’s very warm out today and the bees are vigorously hitting any sugar source they can find. I had some leftover fondant in plates and baking cups, so I put those out to supplement the syrup buckets. I slept in this morning, so I was too late to replenish buckets even with a bee suit on. The girls are crazy this morning!
We have thunderstorms predicted tomorrow, but nothing like last weekend. The warm weather is likely to continue, and I have trays of seedlings in the greenhouse just waiting for the danger of frost to be over. I also had a Carolina Wren in there this morning…. Nature keeps life interesting and sometimes gives me a better jolt than coffee!
The cattle panel greenhouse has performed so much better than the more traditional greenhouse we had in the city. I have two seed tray mats and three light bulbs in there, and everything survived a 25 degree night. I still need to plant the lemon cucumber from High Mowing Seeds, and some Echinacea, but then I think I’ll be done. All of the other seeds from High Mowing are doing great, and I’m excited to taste all the heirloom tomatoes in May.
The rest of my weekend will be spent reading 136 essays and entering grades! These are revised essays, so the grading will go far quicker than for the first drafts, but it really is time for me to stop procrastinating. It’s hard to believe that we are 3/4 of the way through the school year and it’s time to close the gradebooks out again. I may have to take the laptop into the living room, because it is just so very hard to sit inside looking out of the window as spring reveals its unique beauty and resilience.
Now, have I ever told you about my funny and embarrassing story about the wild violets Beccy and I picked when we were 14? I’d better save that for another day, or I’ll never get started on those essays!
Oh, and remind me to tell you what the turkeys have been up to……
We have our first 2019 swarm capture! Swarm might be an overstatement, but while we were adding and removing supers yesterday, Hubby went to grab some frames from a hive I’d baited with Swarm Commander and found a fat, active queen with a handful of bees in the center of the brood box. We’d just split a hive, so we ended up doing a newspaper introduction to the queenless hive as the poor girl didn’t have enough attendants to get her through a 38 degree night. Hubby just took a peek in the hive, and all looks good. He didn’t remove any frames, but the bees are very calm and clearly bees have broken through from the very full bottom box to where their new sovereign is housed.
Hubby purchased two Rapid Bee Feeders to try, so we gave that hive and a weak hive one each. We like the Pro Feeders, but we’ve also experienced some robbing with those when we’ve used them in a weak hive during a dearth. It’s tough to keep the girls fed when temperatures fluctuate as much as they are currently doing. Our goal is to build strength first and foremost this year as we have to get the hive beetles under better control than last year. We’ll move hives out of the lower apiary and into a sunnier area just as soon as we can install more hive stands. As any beekeeper knows, there are more things on the to-do list than there are hours to get them to-done at this time of year!
As for storms: a couple of months ago, we had such a loud clap of thunder that the dog sat on my lap shaking like a leaf for almost an hour afterward. The weekend before last, Hubby and BIL wandered around in the woods and came across a red oak that has clearly been struck by lightening, probably that night. One piece of the tree is splintered, but still attached, while other “splinters” are in concentric circles around the tree. The largest of these is about 12 feet long and was flung 100 yards into the woods. That’s certainly a tree we need to keep an eye on and not one to take a walk close to on a windy day.
The recent floods have also moved sandbanks around in the creek and washed soil away from tree roots, so there are a couple of large trees down in the creek that also look precarious. Even so, it was such a joy to walk the property boundary and watch the dog play in the creek yesterday. Sometimes we have to just put work aside and enjoy our home.
Talking of work, in anticipation of the new raised beds this spring, I’ve filled the greenhouse with seed trays! I have a few types of heirloom tomatoes and some heirloom carrots. The carrots are in a grow bag as I anticipate them being ready to eat before the raised beds are ready. The strawberry plants are in bloom, the blueberry bushes have been relocated to a better spot, and boysenberries have been added to that bed. We have a new pear tree to replace the one that died, although we don’t know which one survived as its tag disappeared. We had two varieties so that they could cross-pollinate — now we either have two different trees or two Kiefer pears. We’ll figure that out sooner or later.
Other than that, we’ve been busy with teacher stuff! Oh – we’re also making progress on the workshop. Did I already blog about that? Looking back, I guess not! I’ll snap some more pictures and blog about that next time we have a sunny weekend.
It’s amazing what a difference both of us living here makes. We’re able to accomplish so much more and I’m already envisioning jars of fresh honey and baskets of tomatoes in May. Of course, we’re also both happier living in the same city. Eighteen years and one day since we met and we still love spending time together –life really is good!
Our strategy of combining weak hives, even if that meant sacrificing queens, in late fall has paid off and we are going into February with 25 strong hives. We did lose one NUC that we were on the fence about. They hung in there until the below freezing temperatures last weekend, but sadly didn’t make it past the last 23 degree morning because the cluster just wasn’t quite big enough to keep warm. We were so close, and, if I could go back, I would probably grab the NUC and put it in the greenhouse for that last week of January! Ian Steppler stacks hives to retain warmth, and that is a strategy we thought about trying but simply didn’t get around to. Once again, we are reminding ourselves that we are closer than ever before to spending all of our time at the farm: we just need to get our city house on the market and sold and stop making that 600 round-trip drive to get it market ready!
I checked candy boards last weekend and was happy to see hundreds of little eyes starting up at me from sugar piles and bees bringing pollen in through the main entrances. Today, bees are removing spilled sugar from the hives. Does that mean they don’t need it any more, or is it just in the wrong place? I didn’t see much pollen coming in, but there are more bees than usual gathering water. I love the sound of contented bees, although I wish there were fewer of them sucking water out of the door mat on the front deck!
There are also signs of spring in the garden. I was frustrated over the absence of crocus last weekend as I thought they should be blooming by now. After all, that’s why I plant them! Crocus are usually the first dashes of color, but the daffodils are leading the way this year. I was happy to finally see crocus shoots this morning. Clover seeded over the last three years is also returning, and one of the fig trees is about to produce its first leaf of the year. I hope to see a good crop of clover flowers for the bees this year as most of our clover should be well established by now. All-in-all, it’s pretty amazing to look back at pictures from three years ago and the progress we’ve been able to make in a relatively short time.
Talking of time, it’s flown by while I’ve been fighting my computer to edit and upload pictures. It must be downloading another Windows update, because it’s apparently been busy doing things other than what I’ve wanted it to do! I had planned to do some gardening this afternoon, but now I think I just need to close the greenhouse and let it start storing some warmth for the evening. The cattle panel greenhouse has been a great success. We are only using three light bulbs to heat it, and up until last week, even the elephant ears were still growing. Our more traditional greenhouse did not protect plants this well. We’re trying to see what we can do without running a heater, and so far, so good. I am going to try heating mats under seedling trays this spring. I’ll let you’all know how that goes. Either way, we plan to add more cattle panel greenhouses before next winter as well as adding raised beds to the garden this spring.