Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock….

Yes, that’s the sound of time ticking away as the end of my summer approaches.   My first day at work is just over a week away and we have so much left to do.   I don’t feel stressed, but last night I dreamed that I left school to run errands during lunch, got lost, the GPS on my fitness watch wouldn’t work  so I didn’t know where I was, and I couldn’t contact anyone at the school until after my students left for the day.   I have never left school at lunch to run errands, but the rest is understandable.  My iPad GPS can’t figure out where we are, so The Weather Channel keeps giving me the weather forecast for Columbia, SC, which is driving me crazy.   I bought a new fitness tracker watch: It went through 2 CR2025 batteries in under a week, and the seller only gave me a partial refund for what is clearly a defective product, so more frustration.   And I guess I am a little stressed about starting work at a new school, although I really like all of the people I’ve met already and the school has great policies in place.   For one thing, they are really serious about cell phones — there’s a time and a place for them, even in the classroom, but they can be such a disruption and distraction.

Sonotube footers
Sonotube footers

But, back to the farm, while we still have time.   We now have electricity, air-conditioning, water, septic, and a land-line phone for when the one-and-only cell phone tower takes a day off!   The propane company is coming out tomorrow to discuss where to place the propane tank, and Hubby is working on the foundation for the front deck as we speak.     He’s trying to get the footers in before the rain returns so that the cement can cure.

Cement mixer
Cement mixer

His brother, thankfully, has an electric cement mixer which is making life a little easier.    I am being no help whatsoever having succumbed to a bad cold!   I couldn’t get through a summer without one, I guess.   The front deck will be built in two stages — the first giving us a way into the house that meets code and the second a place for the whole family to hang out.   While the footers are curing, we’ll add the underpinning to that part of the home before building the actual deck.   Of course, the back deck will take precedence over the family deck as we don’t want anyone to break any bones by trying to exit through the back door.

Clothes line
Clothes line

I’ve been very happy to put laundry baskets in the back doorway and walk around the trailer to retrieve them and hang clothes on the line.   A family friend gave us his old washing machine and it has been wonderful to wash clothes at home, even if that does currently involve climbing up and down shipping-pallet steps!    I don’t know why the machines at the laundromat never seem to get clothes clean and barely rinse the detergent out.   I love the way clothes smell when they’ve been dried outside, but I had forgotten that they don’t feel very soft and fluffy if there’s no breeze while they are drying.   I may need to bring the iron and ironing board down here.    Sigh…. I hate ironing.

Curcuma and hostas
Curcuma and hostas

So now that we have closet space and 765 square feet of home,  we’ll start bringing furniture and work clothes down here.    I have a couple of teacher-workday outfits here, but no dress shoes, makeup or jewelry, so I guess a trip to the city is in my near future.    I also want to dig up some daylilies to add to the hostas I planted over the septic tank so that we know where NOT to drive the tractor.    Talking about the septic tank — we decided to have the septic system installed and are very happy that we did.   We realized that we were in over our heads when we measured the slope of the land.   What looked fairly level was actually a seven foot drop over the length of the leech field.   It was well worth paying a professional to work with the inspector to get the permit approved.    It’s not like we don’t have plenty of other things to keep ourselves busy!

It’s been a short summer for me, but a great one, and I don’t have to go back to the city when school starts.   Sadly, Hubby does, but that will make getting the house on the market easier and it will all work out in the end.    At least this way, one of us can keep an eye on the bees while the other tidies up loose ends in the city.

But it looks like the afternoon rains are coming, so time to sign off and grab the clothes off the line!

 

 

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Natural Food Sources · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

Buckwheat Update

There are reasons my old laptop is at the farm, and right now the main one seems to be to induce stress eating!   But after 2 hours, I have pictures downloaded from my phone and have unsuccessfully looked through today’s buckwheat photographs in search of a bee in focus.   The bees were generally camera shy in the first place, and trying to take pictures after 2 hours in the bee yard wasn’t ideal, so here’s a picture of bee-less buckwheat!

Buckwheat
Buckwheat

The bees forage on the buckwheat and wildflowers from about 8:30 a.m. to lunch.   They show some interest in sugar syrup in the afternoon, but not as much as I expected.  There must still be natural nectar sources available.   I also saw three different colors of pollen coming into the hives this morning.   I didn’t see much open brood in the hives I checked today, but the queens are still fat and each hive had at least 3 frames of capped brood, some nectar, and some bee bread.    Most hives that were queenless last inspection now have active and healthy queens, but two NUCs have failed to produce a queen despite a couple of rounds of added brood.   I added them to a some weaker hives using newspaper to divide the two colonies until they get used to each other.

We were low on 10-frame lids, so we’d temporarily double stacked some NUCs.   Three of them were jam-packed, and I moved them to 10-frame boxes and even added supers to two of them.   I didn’t see any small hive beetles yet, but I know they’re coming.   Actually, they are probably already down at the lower apiary, but I still have 8 hives to check in the new location before I head down there.  So far, the landscape fabric below the hives appears to be making a difference — or maybe it’s just the sunnier location.

English Hive - June 2018
English Hive – June 2018

It’s clearly been a good spring as areas that were clear spring break now have weeds taller than I.  I had to cut a path to my hive before I could see if they have a new queen (they do).  I’m waiting for a rain shower that will keep the girls inside to cut the weeds in front of the hive, but I may have to just suit up and sweat my way through that little patch one evening before I come inside.    While they are not mean bees, they are a little more animated than I am used to from that hive and I don’t plan to sit outside after stirring them up.   That said, they allowed me to do a full inspection this morning and any day without a sting is a good day.

Talking of stings, Bill Turnbull’s book Confessions of a Bad Beekeeper includes hilarious tales of bee stings and the incompletely thought through decisions that led to them in a way that makes me feel good about my own mistakes while imparting some basic knowledge for people interested in the sometimes crazy hobby / business of beekeeping.   It’s an easy read and perfect for my tired brain one week into summer break.    Anyone who describes a bee stinger as a hammer with a thumbtack attached (page 5) clearly knows what he’s talking about, and a sting to the face for a television host certainly has more repercussions than a sting to a face of a teacher who only has an audience of 100 or so on any given day!

I am greatly enjoying my active days at the farm.    I still can’t quite believe that I get to stay here once school starts.   The real work of getting the infrastructure in place for me to do so will start next week when Hubby arrives and we get to do fun things like install a new septic system!  I guess that’s better than having to dig up an old one, and the new mini-home will be well worth the effort.   The RV has served us well for two years, but things going scratch-scratch in the walls at 1:00 a.m. do not make for a good night’s sleep!   Scratch-scratch is better than city life — at least until I come face to face with whatever it is!

Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Products and Vendors

Gains and losses

While I was checking hives on Saturday, I suddenly noticed bearding on the back of one of our weak hives.   I was in the middle of inspecting a strong hive, so all I could do was keep an eye on them.  The beard grew and then the dancing started — clearly a swarm in progress.   I puffed smoke in their direction in the slim hope that they’d go back where they came from, but of course they didn’t.  However, they only moved about 20 feet away and then they settled on a pine branch about a foot off the ground.  (What a time for my phone to be up in the camper charging!)

Swarm captured
Swarm captured

I grabbed a NUC, dropped it off by the swarm and and ran to the shipping container as fast as my tired legs and boots would allow to get the spray bottle and bee brush.  I splashed some more Pro Health into the sugar water because bees like the smell even more than I do and hurried back to the swarm.    I had plenty of frames with drawn comb because I’d already reduced some of the hives down to one brood box, so I set up the NUC, sprayed some sugar water with Pro Health on the frames, gently brushed the bees from the branch and watched the workers crawl down into the frames.  The queen soon followed and then the bulk of the remaining bees followed her.  I slid the inner cover across and then went to get my phone, giving them time to settle in.   When I returned, there were still some bees flying around, so I just put a cover on and left them there until the end of the day.  Hubby suggested that I put a frame of brood in the NUC, and the next hive I inspected had plenty to spare, so that worked out too.

The hive next to the one on which they’d bearded turned out to be empty, so I think that’s where they came from.  There were only 3 frames of bees in there last check, but I couldn’t collapse them down to one brood box because it was too cold to remove frames that trip — that’s a disadvantage of stapling the bottom brood box to the bottom board.  There were quite a few small hive beetles in the frames, so that may be the reason they decided to go elsewhere.   There were no dead bees in the bottom of the hive or around the hive, so swarming seems to be a more likely than a dead out.

With temps in the low seventies, I was able to collapse all the other weak hives down to one brood box and make a couple of splits from the strongest hives.  I was soon surprised to see the sun disappearing below the tree line.  I had two hives to go, but with daylight fading and temperatures dropping I resorted to simply putting another brood box on the mean hive (yes, I’d left them to last) and trusting that the other hive still had plenty of space.    All in all, it was a productive work day and I just hope the splits survive the cooler temperatures this week.

The English hive is also no longer leaning — the bottom board had actually slipped off the stand, so I did have to tear it all the way down.   One of the video bloggers we follow puts a queen excluder above the first brood box with the rationale that the brood will hatch in time to free up cells for the queen to lay more eggs.  That wouldn’t work with my hive as the queen had most of the two deeps and two mediums full of brood!   That’s our top producing and gentlest hive.   If I’d had more time, I could have made two splits out of it instead of just one, but I only had one NUC with me up at the garden.

We hope we can make it back to the farm next weekend as the swarm risk remains for at least two hives.   Hubby has been sidelined with a muscle sprain, so we’ll have to see how he’s doing by Friday.   I may have to make another trip on my own.   It was a beautiful drive back, and the dog no longer gets car sick, so all in all it was a great weekend.

 

City Life · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

A Mule for Christmas (and other distractions from grading).

During a job interview many years ago,  I was asked whether I’d rather be an art critic or an artist.  I’ve never figured out what that had to do with being a computer programmer, but I do finally know the answer — I want to be an artist — or at least be creative!   I only spent 90 minutes grading this morning before the urge to empty the compost pot became the most important thing in my life, and that led to seeing a bee flying, which led to visiting the bee yard, which led to taking pictures, which led me back to the computer and this blog!   To grade, one must be a critic, and I find it hard to “criticize” according the criteria on a rubric.  Yes, I agree that it’s a fair way to grade, and, yes, students knew what the expectations were for their oral exam, but the happy feelings that blue skies and sunshine evoke makes it hard to give a student a failing grade!   Never mind that my dominant learning style is hands-on activity, my second most dominant is visual, and my least dominant is listening — and here I sit with 17.5 hours of oral exams to listen to.   I should not have procrastinated, and I probably shouldn’t be blogging, but just like every other year I’ll get through it somehow.

Feeding pollen and sugar to bees
Feeding pollen and sugar to bees

It’s only 48 degrees out this morning, but the bees are foraging and we want them to have as much stored as possible going into the predicted 20 degree nights next week, so it wasn’t just procrastination that led me down to the bee yard.  Cold as it is, there were so many bees on the pollen feeder station that I couldn’t get to the trays and had to scatter the pollen-sugar mix where the bees can get to it but the dog can’t.   (Maggie climbed a stack of shipping pallets to get to a pollen tray yesterday — you’d think we didn’t feed her sometimes!)   I so enjoy standing there listening to the sound of happy bees, especially on a day as beautiful as today.   We are just so lucky to have this little piece of heaven to call our own.

Boots
Work boots

What does any of this have to do with a mule?   Not much, but our Christmas present to each other this year was a Mighty Mule gate opener.   Well, it was hubby’s Christmas to me, and my gift was to graciously concede that it is money well spent!    Even on a good day, having to get out of the car and walk across the gravel to unlock the gate becomes tedious.   If I’m wearing anything other than my trusty work boots, the likelihood of a twisted ankle increases with the height of the heel.   Rain makes the process even less fun.  Last week’s thunderstorm actually made it somewhat hilarious.   If we do end up moving here before retirement, we need to somehow be able to get out of the gate in all weather still looking presentable enough to show up at work.

It took hubby a while to install the gate opener, partly because of the instructions,  partly because of all the adjustments and settings, and partly because the dog and I were hibernating in the camper instead of helping for much of the time.   By the end of the day on Christmas Day, he had everything working, but then spent most of the next day trying to get it to work right!   The gate opens fine, and even closes after 30 seconds.  The problem was that it randomly re-opened.   That doesn’t offer much security and is likely to run the battery down.   I searched the Internet for answers on our way to the family dinner and found that many people have problems with the wand that detects when a car pulls up to the gate to leave.   Hubby spoke with tech support and tried many things, but the final solution was along the lines of Hotel California — guests who have the code can check in any time they like, but they can never leave!   The wand is going back for a refund and hubby will research other solutions.

Maggie - exhausted
Maggie – exhausted

Well, it’s time to listen to at least a couple more exams — 7 down, 30 to go!   It makes me want to curl up with the dog and just take a nap.

 

 

 

Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

Preparing for Winter

Enlgish Hive
English Hive – October 22, 2017

It’s only 62 degrees this morning, but bees in the English hive are already out foraging.  It’s no wonder that these bees are well set up for the cold weather that is just around the corner;  of all our hives, they have the most honey stored.    This is our go-to hive for requeening because the colony has always been friendly, the queens have always been great producers, the bees are hygienic,  and the bees are the first out the door to forage.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have a hive that has no stored resources despite all the goldenrod that surrounds the apiary.   Our records show that they haven’t stored any resources since we brought them back from the sunflower patch — and they had nothing then.    If I’d been able to find the queen yesterday, I’d have combined them with another weak but productive hive.  Those guys have increased their numbers by a full frame of bees and they have nectar and bee bread stored.   I can’t risk combining them without eliminating the lazy-genetics queen, so they have two weeks to pick up their game!   We put a candy board on the hive yesterday (and reduced the entrance down to a single bee width), so maybe that will help them.   Maybe it will make them more dependent on us.

We’ve also had to do our part in the preparation.  Our varroa mite treatments were interrupted by the two hurricanes that passed close by, but we treated the last hives yesterday.   We used Api Life VAR for most of the hives simply because it dissipates and doesn’t have to be removed.    We used ApiVar for the last two hives simply because we still had some; we will need to remove the strips after 42 days.   We’ve had good results with both products in the past and we do try to rotate treatment methods to prevent mite resistance.

A non-chemical way to break the mite cycle occurs when we requeen because the brood cycle is interrupted.   Of course, this is not a method we can take at this time of year.   Not treating for mites risks loss of the colony, so to us that is simply not an option.   Many experts consider varroa mites to be the main factor in winter colony losses.

The other steps we taken to set our bees up for success are reduction the entrance sizes to help each hive better defend against robbing, removal of queen excluders, and removal of superfluous supers and brood boxes.   As temperatures drop, we need to minimize the volume that bees need to keep warm.   The queen is not going to lay large amounts of eggs at this time of year, so we only need to allow for enough space to store the last resources naturally available out there.   Queen excluders need to be removed because the bees may cluster above the excluder, leaving the queen cold and alone and likely to die.   While she’s not laying much right now, they’ll need her in spring!  As for robbing — it’s not just other bees that rob.   We found a yellow jacket inside one hive yesterday and I blogged about the European Hornets that decimated hives a few weeks ago.

The final thing we’re still battling is small hive beetle infestation.   Some hives have almost none, while other hives are mind-mindbogglingly full.   Naturally, the hives with the most nectar are most attractive to the beetles, so they got extra beetle blasters yesterday.   Two of our hives are always the most problematic, so we’ll relocate those hives in spring to see if that makes a difference.   Both have been requeened. Both used to be mean and are now calmer.   Mean or calm made no difference in beetle numbers, so we suspect it’s location.  Still, the other two hives on the stand have minimal beetle populations, so it’s going to be trial and error to figure out what’s going on with them.

Well, I want to get outside and enjoy another couple of hours among the trees before heading back to the city.   We’ve finished all the crucial tasks, so now it’s time to just relax and enjoy — and tire the dog out before sticking her in the car for the 5 hour commute!

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Drivin’ On….

We were down at the farm last weekend and we got to drive on our brand new driveway!   It has made such a difference; I barely recognized that part of the land.   Not only do we have gravel to stop us from sinking into the mud, the bulldozer operator put in drainage channels and built up a berm along the edge of the deck to protect the driveway and the future garden area from erosion.  He also leveled pads for our garden shed and RV.

Down at the house site, he cleared away most of the debris from the tree thinning, leveled the site, and sloped the septic field.   We can’t even begin to say how happy we are with the work.  

As if those weren’t enough pleasant surprises, our neighbor cut the grass along the road for us, our magnolia seedlings appear to like Georgia clay better than South Carolina sand, the daylillies have buds, and the fig trees are full of deep-green leaves.  We threw out wild-flower seeds as we walked around and hope they grow into nectar sources for our bees.

Talking of bees, an article from Catch the Buzz may help explain why our bees often ignore what I plant for them and go find their own food sources.  The bees know what the hive needs, just like sometimes my body demands a steak instead of tofu!   In order to provide the bees variety at the house, I’ve planted more wild-flower seeds  and have many other seeds started that the University of Georgia recommends for year round nectar sources.    Another source recommended Clethra, a plant that blooms profusely in July-August when there is not much available for bees.  I bought two plants through Amazon that shipped from Hirt’s Gardens.  The plants arrived April 11 and the white one is close to flowering already.   The plants were so healthy and so well packaged that I know I will buy from Hirt’s again.  While I know that what I’ve planted will not be enough to support our hives, it’s a start and many of the plants will spread through their roots or by self-seeding.   Every little bit that keeps them healthy and reduces the amount of sugar water we need to provide to get them through the dearth will help. 

We took two of our hives down to the farm and got them settled in.  They were not at all happy after the long trip on Friday and stung hubby through his bee jacket, but were calm by Sunday.   We’ll take the next set of hives down as soon as we can close them up at night so the bees don’t have to wait to go forage or travel while the sun is up and keeping them too warm.

Now we just have to drive on through the final, crazy weeks of school.   Working our hives, putting together more hive bodies and frames, gardening, and constantly changing our minds about house plans — all those things are keeping us in positive frames of mind.  Summer is coming, and we are one year closer to retirement!   We’ll be able to move the RV to the land during summer break and then start building a workshop, or a garden shed, or a house…. those plans change daily too!