Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Products and Vendors · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Swarms and Storms

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!

Red Oak
Red Oak – Struck by Lightning

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.

Shop 0225
Workshop – February 2019

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!

Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Relaxing · Supplemental Feeding

A Walk in the Woods

A view of the creek.

Over the past few days, we keep walking down to the bluff that overlooks the creek. It’s so peaceful there. Even though the water is up a little, there is still a soothing sound of water running over granite rocks. Add to that the sounds of a happy dog bounding through fallen leaves and the occasional bee flying by to get a drink, and it seems like the perfect place to have 50 feet from the back porch of the house. We plan to put a bench out there in the near future so that we can just sit and daydream together and maybe decide once and for all where the house will go.

My walk down there today started out as a simple pollen feeder check. Even though we have candy boards on all but two hives (one has lots of honey, the other we apparently overlooked), the bees are feeding heavily on the pollen and powdered sugar mix. On just one of feeder, they consumed 2 cups of mixture in an afternoon a couple of days ago. I love listening to their contented hum, which is really the main reason I wandered down there this afternoon. I took this picture, and the one above, and then the camera died.

Sometimes a dead battery is a good thing, because I wasn’t ready to go back inside and just meandered along the creek bank for a while and took in the beauty of my surroundings. Even though I called the dog, she kept going to all the places she expected me to be and therefore never found me. Once we reunited at the lower apiary, we walked that loop together and just had fun exploring.

While organizing the office feels only a little less overwhelming than before, the impromptu walk was restorative. Now I just need to narrow my focus to one stack or box of stuff at a time instead of staring at the chaos created when we moved clutter in here so that we could install the laminate flooring in the living room. Maybe I’ll take just one more short break in the now very tidy living room before I dive in……

Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Nature · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee

The Return of the Hives!

Blackberry flowers
Blackberry flowers

One good thing about this time of year is that I can perform full checks of 18 hives in just a couple of hours!   While I’d hate to see so few bees and no honey come June, it sure is nice to be able to knock out half the bee yard before lunch without even breaking a sweat.

My feeling about the blackberry bushes is the reverse.  Right now, I’m happy to see all the flowers because they are such a good nectar source and our bees are bringing in lots of lovely nectar and pollen right now.   However, as soon as the blackberry bushes stop blooming, I’ll get hubby to hook the cutter up to the tractor and I’ll mow down all the ones that are growing like the weeds they are along our trails.   They are quite welcome to keep growing off the trails for now — at least until after I make another batch of blackberry-apple jam.

The bees are doing great and so far there are very few small hive beetles in the new yard.   Most of the hives are beetle free, but 3 had wasps starting nests under the lids.   Two were yellow jackets and one was a red wasp — I’m not sure which I like least.   Well maybe I do — I like the ones that are gone!

The new bees that hubby bought in Jesup are very friendly.   Some of the hives are outgrowing their space, while others are just plodding along.   The packages he bought all still have their queens and they are laying, but some of the queens he bought separately are nowhere to be found.  We’re pretty sure that not being able to install them right away contributed to those losses, but at least the remaining ones are making up for lost time.   We tried introducing a NUC with an weak  queen from last year to a hive that had become queenless this spring, but that failed.   The hive itself is incredibly strong, but no queen — unless she’s out on a mating flight.    It seems to me that they would have preferred a weak queen to no queen at all, but bees don’t always make sense.

Yellow Columbines
Yellow Columbines — Columbines grow so much better in the clay here than in the sandy soil back in the city!

It’s nice to be back and see the grass seed sprouting along the driveway along with what might be wildflowers from the seed my friend sent for my birthday.    I also have spring onions growing and one lonely squash plant.   Last week, hubby thought something had been snacking in the temporary vegetable beds, so that plant might not be even there next weekend — or it may be surrounded by other plants.   We did get to eat one strawberry each this afternoon and are looking forward to more in years to come.

It still seems a little surreal that I will be here full time soon.   For now, we’re bringing one or two boxes of stuff with us each time we drive down.   I don’t think either one of us wants to think about packing up the house until we get to the end of the school year, but when the mood strikes I do gather stuff to take to Goodwill.   We are both pack-rats, but as we’re downsizing some things just have to go.   Maggie, the dog, is just so much happier here so I’m sure she’d pack for us while we’re at work if she knew how.

It’s been a productive and tiring day, but I’ll be going to sleep stress free and with a big smile on my face.   Every trip reaffirms that buying this land was the perfect decision for us and our future.   Happy spring, everyone — it seems like it might be sticking around this time!

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Heater Bees

This is less a blog, and more a quick post to share an interesting article about the bees that keep a hive warm in winter.    As most of the country is in the middle of this long cold-spell, I’m sure that most of us who are beekeepers are concerned about our hives.   We placed candy boards on every hive before we returned to the city, and I hope they add a layer of insulation as well as food.  Still, I worry…..   and we won’t know how well each hive pulled through until it’s warm enough for bees to fly again.

There are some new-to-me facts in this article, such as why it’s not a bad thing when a queen leaves some cells empty when laying eggs.   Enjoy!

How Honey Bees Keep Their Hives Warm Given That They are Cold Blooded

Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature

Love-Hate Relationships

When we drove to our land for the first time, we were discouraged after having spent a day looking at clear-cut plots that had been misrepresented on marketing sites.  It was hot, and we were tired.  Then we stepped out of our car and a wonderful, cool breeze wafted up from the spring-fed creek.   I was dealing with a pinched nerve in my neck and lots of accompanying shoulder pain, so I stayed at the car and hubby went for a walk down to the creek.   The breeze never stopped and it was just so peaceful.  Cool and peaceful.  We came back later with BIL (my brother-in-law) and this time I joined them for a walk.  The creek was (and still is) incredible and the pines give way to hardwoods as you approach the creek.  I was in love!   Then came the part of the walk with the brambles, and the love-hate relationship began!

I love the land even more now that we are 18 months into making it our retirement home, but my love-hate for all things thorny continues!   I love the plethora of wild blackberries, but I hate the thorns.  Even the dead stems from previous years have thorns; sometimes they seem to be worse than the ones on the live plants.   The blackberries are growing even better now that we have had the trees thinned and they get more light.   Thankfully we can see the canopies of the pine trees growing too, so there’ll be more shade in a year or two and maybe the blackberries will become manageable!  From what I read a few nights ago, they are pretty much indestructible, so manageable is all I’m aiming for right now!

Blackberries
Blackberries

 

Another even thornier plant that loves to wrap itself around my ankles is sensitive briar (Mimosa pudica).   It’s called that because its leaves fold up when touched.  They are so delicate looking and the flowers are beautiful, but the thorns are anything but delicate.   Regardless of how I feel about how insensitive this plant can be to my skin, bees of all kinds love it.   I saw honey and bumble bees with full pollen sacs on the flowers yesterday.   The plant is considered invasive, so I feel less guilty about weed-eating a bunch of it today!

Sensitive Briar
Honey bee on sensitive vine

 

I love being surrounded by all this greenery, but it’s another love-hate relationship for reasons besides thorny things.   Hubby cleared a beautiful trail down to the creek last fall, but the trail disappeared into a field of weeds taller than I am in just a few weeks this spring!   I just spent over an hour weed-eating my way back to the spring.  From that point on, we’re in hardwoods and the weeds and thorns are minimal.  The work was well worth it as the dog had so much fun playing in the creek and I had so much fun watching her!   Of course, the water is so cold that it’s always a pleasant break from the heat of the day to just sit close to it.  I cut the trail a little wider than last time — not that that will make a difference because most of the weeds will grow back up and only a few vines will encroach from the sides.  Still, the image of the huge rattlesnake we saw our first November here remains with me, and I do like being able to see what’s on either side of a trail we’re walking!

Trail to Creek
Before and After

 

My last love-hate is Georgia clay!   It’s so hard to dig into —  it can be like concrete when it’s dry.   Then when it rains, it’s a gooey mess that sticks to your boots until it pulls them off your feet.   When we dug the trenches for the water lines, some parts of the clay smelled like dirty baby diapers.   BUT, unlike the pure sand we have at the house in the city, when I water the soil here, it stays damp for a while.   Most of the cuttings I’ve brought down here are doing so much better than their parent plants.   Both sand and clay can become good growing soil with enough organic matter mixed in, which is one of the reasons we’re avid composters.  Still, all the country songs about Georgia clay make me smile, so I know that I really do love this patch of clay and granite despite all the pink stains that clay leaves in socks and on floors!

Nothing is perfect, but there is also good in just about everything.  I’m bruised and scratched after my week of working out here, but I am so at peace.   When it’s too hot to work, I read for pleasure (Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer or Ladies Night by Mary Kay Andrews, depending on my mood at the time) or I take a nap.   I’ve checked 18 bee hives and worn the blades off the weed-eater.   Despite my love-hate relationship with some elements of the farm, I love everything about actually living here!

 

 

 

Bees · Nature

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" William Shakespeare

Hummingbird

As soon as we arrived at the farm on Friday, the hummingbirds started chattering and darting around the almost empty feeder.   We originally thought there was one pair nesting close to our RV, but there are far more than that.   We so enjoyed watching their antics just a few steps away from our porch that I bought two more feeders on Saturday.    We put them out as soon as we returned home, but the hummingbirds were clearly distrustful of the new feeders Saturday evening.   I hoped to see hummingbirds on every feeder Sunday morning, but our bees renamed them bee feeders!   I guess hummingbird syrup is just as sweet as sugar water!   It didn’t matter to the bees that they have their very own 5 gallon bucket of sugar water just around the corner from the hives or that they were uninvited guests at the RV.   I initially thought there was a mosquito in the RV when I was making coffee, but it turned out to be the bees we could hear buzzing around outside talking about these new red, plastic flowers that appeared overnight!   They then moved right in and chased the hummingbirds away.   However, they were unable to reach the nectar in one feeder once all the spilled sugar water was gone, so they eventually moved away and left that one for the birds.

However, they very quickly took ownership of the new feeder with a flat top.   Not only did they clean up leaking syrup from a gap between the lid and the top, they were able to stick their probosces through the holes and drink to their hearts’ content.   They were still their guzzling away when we left at lunchtime.    Luckily for the hummingbirds, no bees or wasps were interested in the 99 cent feeder, so the birds ended up with two feeders to fight over.   And fight they did.    I’ve always wondered how hummingbirds survive when they seem to spend more time being territorial than drinking.  There are four perches on the original feeder — why can’t they just get along and hang out together?

The bees in the city and at the farm continue their feeding frenzy on the buckets and manage to drink 5 gallons of sugar water a day.   It’s amazing to see;  I equate it to scenes of mall doors opening on Black Friday.   A year ago I would have found it terrifying to watch, but now I know they are more interested in food than in me and the biggest danger comes from standing in the flight path of a highly focused bee!     The bees are also bringing back more pollen than a couple of weeks ago and the queens are laying eggs again in both locations.   The first Goldenrod flowers opened at the farm over the weekend, so the bees will soon have plenty of natural food.   I haven’t seen any Goldenrod around here yet, but it can’t be far behind.

Why do we feed bees?   Well, they would normally just stop reproducing at times like this when resources are scarce, and we are trying to increase our bee numbers before the final strong pollen and nectar flow occurs in fall.   We were able to move two hives from 5 frame Nucs to 10 frame hives on Saturday, and did the same to two growing hives at one of our outyards one (very hot) day last week.   If we can move into this time that resources are available with newly founded hives, they will have time to store supplies to get them through most of the winter.   They more they can store, the less we have to feed them over winter, and the more food they have in December, the faster our bee numbers will grow in spring.   Our focus so far has been in growing the number of bees.   In spring, we’ll focus on bee growth in some locations and honey in others.

Bees drinking on flat hummingbird feeder.

 

Nature

Enjoying the rain

Rainy afternoon at the farm.
Many years ago, a friend from Seattle came to visit while South Carolina was in the middle of a drought.  We went out to Congaree Swamp and got caught in a downpour, and he simply could not understand my ecstatic dance as the rain cooled the 100 degree day and provided much needed water to our state.  It continued to pour for hours, the parking  lot at the baseball park flooded, and still I was happy.  Now, I would also not have understood when I lived in Germany or England, but, like Seattle, rain is more common in both of those places than sunshine, which is what makes all the scenic photos and postcards so lush and green!
The area of Georgia where our farm is located has been edging into a drought, and working on weed-eating and finishing the water lines has been hot, sweaty work the past few days.   The good thing is that the fig trees and Goldenrain trees are hanging in there, presumably pushing their roots down into the Georgia clay, which will help them in the long run.    Still, the daylilies are a little brown and two of the Goldenraintrees were a little
The “redneck living room”

droopy, but this afternoon it started to rain.   We bought a bench and a beach umbrella a couple of days ago, and when the rain started we sat in what I have dubbed the redneck living room and listened to the rain fall in our woods and on the umbrella.  We stayed there until the rain soaked through our jeans and just enjoyed the sounds of the rain and the birds.   Once our jeans were so wet that we couldn’t bend our legs, we decided to head back to the RV where we have continued to listen to the rain for the past 4 hours.

One other thing I noticed today is that the soil around the figs was still damp this morning from the water I put on them yesterday.   That made schlepping a watering can and milk jug of water 300 or so yards worthwhile!   We’re used to dealing with South Carolina sand that feels bone dry an hour after the sprinklers run.   It’s no wonder that the daylilies here look better than the ones in Columbia that get watered 3 times a week.

There is more rain forecast for the next few days, and I am still thankful after seeing the corn and the hay fields so very dry around here.   I’m enjoying reading The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy again and we both needed a relaxing afternoon.   Now, if it rains for two weeks straight again, like it did over winter break, I’ll be back to complaining, but for now the sound of rain is a good thing.