Hubby finally found a “chainsaw” that is just right for me – a Stihl GTA 26 garden pruner! It’s a light-weight, battery-operated hand pruner that is capable of cutting down saplings and trimming tree limbs. I cleared part of the view of the creek with it yesterday afternoon, and we’ve been using a variety of tools to selectively cut trees between our planned house and the creek today.
Not only do we have a better view of the creek, we’ve unearthed another three sourwood trees. Sourwoods need adequate sunshine to bloom, so trimming non-nectar trees that are shading them will help us with our honey production next year. Our guide is that if we can put our thumb and forefinger around a sapling, it needs to go because it’s simply taking resources from the trees around it without much of a chance of ever being a strong tree in its own right. Of course, we’re also battling muscadine vine and blackberry briars while keeping a close watch for snakes, so it’s not exactly fun. It is, however, very satisfying to see instant progress.
After yesterday’s workout with the mini-saw, I decided to rest my muscles this morning and made a new batch of itch-soother salve. I ran out of salve last week, but had to wait for the oil-herb infusion to be ready for a new batch. It’s fairly quick and easy to make. Some of my first batch was a little grainy in texture, so I used the immersion blender this time once the beeswax melted. Now I just have to wait for my next bee sting to see if it’s as effective as the first batch! I also need to figure out how much each jar costs me to make as I originally spent $40 for the herbs that go in it.
Once I finished the salve and the clean-up, I couldn’t resist heading back out into the woods where I could hear Hubby with his chainsaw! Right now, I’m taking a break from the heat and waiting for the pruner’s battery to recharge, but I anticipate being back at work in just a few minutes.
Time to hydrate and head back outside before the afternoon thunderstorms move in!
Sometimes it seems that bees know just when I’m wearing a dress and heels or when we have ice-cream in the back of the car after a grocery run — they just know when to make swarming more of a challenge for us. Then I have to think back on the swarm that moved into an empty NUC while I was checking bees last fall to realize that maybe we just remember the inconvenient swarms better!
This swarm initially looked like 4 smaller swarms, but it turned into one of the biggest swarms we’ve had. We last inspected the hive on Sunday. They had barely started working the honey super and we made a split to give the queen open frames to lay fresh brood, but by Friday they had the honey super about 30% full, multiple frames had hatched, and they were still storing nectar in the brood boxes. Even with the bees in the trees, the hive was still rocking it! The nectar flow is good this year, and we need to recheck some other strong hives again as soon as the coffee kicks in this morning.
The swarm was pretty high up in a pine tree, so it took some brainstorming, which included discarding crazy ideas while building upon them, to get the branch down. We even very briefly considered chopping the tree down! Hubby managed to drop the swarm right onto the tarp we’d laid down with multiple boxes on it. We’d baited all of them with Swarm Commander and I’d put a frame with nectar, brood, and bees from the original hive in the 10-frame. After they’d recovered from the fall, they started pagenting in to the 10-frame and one of the NUCs. Some of them returned the tree, just higher up than before. They spent the night out there, but they are still alive and kicking!
After a while, we shook the remaining bees from the tarp into the 10-frame and just crossed our fingers. Now that’s it’s warmed up, bees are migrating down from the tree to the two capture-hives. Of course, we won’t know for a few days whether they are just regrouping in preparation of another escape attempt or happy in their new home, but we consider this capture a success, an adventure, and a wonderful example of how well Hubby and I work together.
We both took one sting each (for swarming bees they were relatively well-mannered) and the anti-itch salve I made from a Beeswax Alchemy recipe worked wonders. It was the first time we’d been able to try it on a bee sting — I’ve wanted to know if it works for a long time, but not enough to intentionally get stung. I’m not so sure that the soap I tried last week is turning out as well, but it is the most complex soap recipe I’ve tried yet. More about soaps, lotions, and salves next blog….
When I walked into the RV to check on the chicks yesterday morning, all three were perched on the wire mesh that is supposed to keep them inside the cattle trough until they are big enough to move outside. Surrounding the trough was “evidence” that they had been exploring for quite a while, and they appeared to be smirking at me! Their new home was almost ready, so we moved up their move-in date, set about completing the final necessary construction, added a brooder lamp to the coop just in case we have some more cool nights, and and moved them over. I had one more RV chicken wrangling rodeo and then they were in their new home.
We’d expected them to be nervous, but they immediately started exploring and searching for motivational meal-worms. Within half an hour, they were climbing on their ladder and by the end of the day they had become quite adept at walking up and down the rungs. The high point of the day was when Hubby found an earthworm in the soil he brought up for the planters and we got to watch two very determined chicks chase one highly motivated chick around while she gobbled up her treat! They looked remarkably like a picture I remember from one of my daughter’s story books many years ago.
Grayson, one of the twin cats, has been sniffing around the empty dog crate where the chicks have been vacationing for some time, and it didn’t take him long to show up and see what we were all up to. He did a very good tiger imitation as he walked around the coop and chicken run many times while checking out the measures we’ve taken to keep him, coyotes, raccoons, and other critters out.
Chicken run protection
We have field wire extending out about 2 feet from the coop and run to keep predators from digging under the fence. On the sides of the run, we have chicken wire going all the way to the top. Along the bottom, we have hardware cloth covering the ends of the field wire and chicken wire. On top of all that, we have cinder-blocks that I will use as planters, and the remaining field-wire is covered with gravel on the high traffic areas and soil where a future wildflower garden will be. After my sister-in-law’s surprises last summer, we hope the hardware cloth will provide a challenge for any snakes that want eggs for breakfast, but we know that snakes and mice can be pretty determined critters.
The two The two Red Sex Links went right into the coop last night once they realized I was throwing meal worms into it. The baby, which I’d name Speedy if I were going to name chicks, was reluctant to enter, to say the least. Trying to get Speedy in while stopping the other two leaving was getting everyone hot and bothered, so we closed the chicken door. After a while, the inside chicks and Speedy started calling back and forth to each other. Speedy walked up to the door, kept chirping, and then walked right through when I opened the door up for her. It took them a little while and a few meal worms to come out this morning, but now we have a routine started. The chicken door is automatic, and my brother-in-law says that their chickens very quickly got used to going in when they knew the door was about the close. We have a storm coming through tonight, so we’ll probably herd them again this evening, but as quickly as these girls figured out how to escape the brooder pen after their first accidental escape, I’m sure they’ll figure out where it’s warm at night very soon.
Okay – Now it’s time to stop calling the youngest chick Speedy as I am determined to not name the chickens, especially not that one as there’s a possibility that she may not be a she! At some point, I will need to wrap my head around having a chicken in the crock pot! Maybe.
We still need to add the nesting boxes and paint the trim, but today has just turned into another rainy day. Our bodies are telling us that it’s time to take a day off from heavy lifting, and we need to mentally make the shift to our return from spring break!
Stay healthy, everyone, and we will try to do the same because life is just too good to miss on the farm.
I finally received the go-ahead to start cautiously lifting some weight aka hive lids two weeks ago, so I’ve checked hives I was concerned about and, sadly, burned a bunch of mothy frames. When we made the last round of splits, we knew we’d have to monitor them closely and keep the division feeders filled, but then Hubby got bronchitis and I was still dealing with my pinched nerve, so neither of us could do what needed to be done. It’s prime wax-moth season, so they decimated a number of those weak NUCs.
Still, it’s not all bad news. Despite a very dry month, the Goldenrod is blooming and all the healthy hives have large bee-bread and nectar stores. We had a strong Buckwheat nectar flow from before the Goldenrod kicked in and the queens are currently ramping up brood production. If there’s anything good to say about “near record-breaking heat,” it’s that it gives the bees more time to prepare for winter. We finally have lows in the 60’s overnight, but continue to have highs in the 90’s with no rain in the forecast.
More good news is that there are very few small hive beetles in the new hive stand location. We seeded the soil with nematodes from Arbico Organics a couple of months ago and very quickly saw a difference. (The lower apiary has as much of a problem as ever. It’s too close to our planned house site, so we’re moving everything out of there soon.) We used nematodes from Arbico years ago back in the city to get rid of grubs in our lawn, and we plan to seed some to combat Japanese Beetles along with treating around other hive stands in spring. This recent batch of nematodes was so well packaged that they survived being left at the gate in the direct sun all afternoon thanks to an unnamed delivery service!
This time I’m wearing gloves…..
Despite the lack of rain, our single jalapeno plant continues to provide more jalapenos than we can eat. A friend of ours makes the best jalapeno jelly, so I’m using our overabundance to get much needed practice.
A few weeks ago, I included one chopped one jalapeno in a tomato salad, then rubbed my itchy eye about 2 hours later. Wow. It hurt. I was scared I’d damaged my eye. I remembered to flush with lots of water. If it happens again, I’ll jump in the shower to flush with more water. I don’t plan on letting it happen again.
Hubby later explained to me that I had pretty much experienced what tear gas is like! So, when we seeded the 12 ounces of peppers for the first batch of jelly, we obsessively washed our hands before and after — many, many, times. I guess it helped, but it wasn’t a solution! Internet tips say rubbing with alcohol removes the oils and bathing in milk removes the burn, but wearing gloves in the best bet of all! Eighteen ounces of peppers await and I have a pack of 50 gloves in the kitchen drawer.
The jelly was good, but the texture was a little off. I didn’t realize that powdered pectin is added before sugar but liquid pectin after, and the recipe didn’t make that clear. We’ll see what happens today.
What I am doing blogging and cooking on a Monday? Well, Georgia schools have the option of teaching longer classes and reducing the number of days, and that is what we do. I think it’s hugely beneficial to students, especially those who have been fighting the same upper respiratory illness that Hubby and I had and need some time to just catch up. My current school does a great job of keeping absenteeism in check, and that is a essential piece of the longer days = fewer days option. A short break also allows me to get caught up, research some new material to teach, and take care of those routine medical checks that seem to increase with age. Wow — I think school, and my writing styles morphs back into “teacher” — it’s time to go for a quick walk around the hives and get my “farm-girl” back!
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!
We have already been amazed by the vibrant colors and the length of bloom time of our daylilies here in the Georgia clay. This morning, the first Crinum Lily that we transplanted from the city bloomed, and it is also a deeper pink than it ever was back in the sandy soil of Columbia, SC. (Even deeper than it appears in the picture.) These transplants are from our son-in-law’s grandmother’s garden, so we are very excited to see them thrive. We also have some Wedgwood blue bearded iris from her garden, but they did not bloom this year.
We also found the plant-tag scrap book from Columbia, so we should be able to identify the daylilies we bought sixteen years ago. For the first time, they look like they did in the catalog and are all blooming at the same time. I periodically throw some Miracle Grow on that bed, but nowhere nearly as often as I did in Columbia, so they must just like Georgia better, even with minimal fertilizer. May was extremely dry and many of our plants appeared to be hanging on for dear life, but then everything burst into bloom when the June rains started.
Of all the transplants (other than us), Maggie is certainly the happiest. As of this morning, we are a two-golf-cart family, so she now has her pick of chauffeur driven vehicles. When the woodland smells become too enticing, she dismounts and heads off on the trail of a rabbit or deer. We saw two deer while cruising around after a thunderstorm yesterday, and she ended up showing off her tracking skills while getting incredibly muddy.
The first golf cart has been so very useful for hauling equipment to the bee yard and potting soil to the garden, but it came to the point where it was always being used by one of us when the other needed to haul something. Our increased productivity made adding to the “fleet” worthwhile, especially with the ever increasing number of hives to manage. We received fantastic customer service at Golf Rider in Peachtree City for both carts as well as a better price than ones we’d looked at online.
One advantage of the golf cart over the ATV is the accessibility of the bed; not only is it lower, the tailgate can be dropped, so I can lift relatively heavy things on there. The other advantage is the wonderfully quiet electric motor. The new cart even has a USB charger, so I can keep the phone going when I record hive inspection information.
Well, afternoon thunderstorms will start rolling in soon, so I am heading off to battle Japanese Beetles and other critters that like our veggies just as much as we do. We found our first pink tomato this morning, but something else found it first — I don’t plan to let that happen again!
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!