Bees · Lazer Creek Apiary · Nature · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

Counting Our Blessings – March 2019

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Crocus, March 2019

Tornadoes

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.

Freezing Temperatures

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.

First attempt at grafting queens
First attempt at grafting queens

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.)

Warm Today

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!

Bees on Fondant
Bees on Fondant

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.

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Violets

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……

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.

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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!

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!

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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!