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Bee Safe!

Amaryllis
Amaryllis – April 2019

Once again we’re under a tornado watch, but the danger is a lot less than a month ago.  We should be out from under the thunderstorms by this afternoon.  Meanwhile, I’m sitting here looking at the rivulets running along the side of the drive and at our beautiful grassy area going across to the well house.  The White Dutch Clover is well enough established to bloom in many places.   Of our 20 acres, we probably have 15 covered with blackberry bushes in full bloom right now.   There is a lot of crimson clover in the orchard.   Everything is really beautiful, but there’s not a bee to be seen on all the things we’ve planted for them.  (Not that we planted the thorny blackberry vines, but we will always leave some patches as a nectar source.)    The bees are clearly finding plenty of resources elsewhere as all hives have multiple frames full of nectar and the bees are drawing lots of beautiful new comb.   As always, we have to recognize that the bees know what the hive needs at this point in time, and they will gather what they want.   We see lots of bees returning from the direction of the creek, so they are either heading toward the deciduous trees or going across the creek to the forest land that was cleared 18 months ago.

I checked most of the hives over spring break — the first week of April.   We are applying ProDFM for the first time this year and seeing good results.   Of course, it’s always difficult to determine whether or not the bees would have done as well without our intervention, but treated hives appear to be thriving better than those we did not treat.   Some of our hives had bees on about half the frames 10 days ago and are now bursting at the seams.  A few hives have open brood and eggs covering four or more frames.

I checked hives that I didn’t get to over break yesterday and pulled out frames with eggs and 1 – 3 day brood and Hubby started our second grafting attempt.  That turned out to be a very efficient way to do that, and after harvesting, we placed those frames into NUCs for walkaways.   That also enabled us to add empty frames to high producing hives.  We didn’t see any swarm cells in those hives yet, but the hives are producing lots of drones, so we need to do what we can to discourage swarm tendencies.

hatched queen cells
Hatched queen cells from grafts

We had 75% success the first time we attempted grafting, but work and weather got in the way of us checking the grafts in a timely manner and the queens hatched and left!   I saw one small queen in the hive that same week, but she must have lost her way on a mating flight.   This time we have NUCs set up to receive any good queen cells.    We split two angry hives into NUCs and only grafted from mellow and productive hives.  If the NUCs build their own queen cells over the next few days, we’ll pinch those off and give them a queen that is more likely to be one we can work with.    (Hubby ended up having to taking shelter under the garden sprinkler to deter some bees that need an attitude adjustment yesterday!)

Our hive beetle problem-corner remains an issue despite a variety of things we’ve tried.   I moved one 10-frame to a NUC over break and that NUC had almost no bees yesterday and a sickening number of SHM larvae wiggling away on the frames.  Hubby is now moving healthy bees from the lower apiary to our sunnier upper apiary, but he’s not moving hives up from that one corner.    We will move them to other benches in the lower apiary and treat them, but we don’t want to risk infesting what is currently a good location.   We have had some luck with putting old carpet under one of hive stands in the lower apiary and we’ll use up old carpet that we brought from the house under our new hive stands.   Cheap landscape fabric, Diatomaceous Earth,  and a variety of SHB traps did nothing for the corner closest to the spring although all of those methods helped elsewhere.   We have better landscape fabric under all hive stands in the upper apiary, and we think that is helping.

Raised beds
Raised beds and remaining seedling trays

Talking about landscape fabric, Hubby has built two raised beds so far and we are using heavy landscape fabric on those as well as on the new blueberry and boysenberry patch.   Four varieties of heirloom tomatoes are thriving in the first raised bed and Lemon Cucumber seedlings are ready to be moved into the second one.   The older we get, the less we want to bend down to weed any kind of garden, so raised beds are the way to go!  With rainfall like we just had, they are also a good way to keep soil amendments where we need them instead of seeing them wash down to the creek!   Hubby stacked the blocks without using any mortar to enable us move the beds if they don’t work well in their current location and to allow excess water to escape.   Hubby is going to build a smaller bed for asparagus and everything else will have to live in old Home Depot buckets this year! We’ve gone from gardening in the sandy soil of Columbia, SC to gardening in clay.   I must say that almost all of our transplants are doing far better here than they ever did at the old house.

There’s lots of “Hubby did this” and “Hubby is going to do this” in this post, but that’s not because I’ve become a lady of luxury.   I’m a very frustrated bee-keeper dealing with tendonitis in my right ankle/calf!   I made a lot of progress over spring break, but walking around the classroom last week set me back again.  Still,  my ankle looks and feels a whole lot better than a month ago, and I know from past experiences that being patient now provide a better outcome by summer.   Not that I’m really being patient — I guess being proactive would be a better term.   When have I ever been patient?

The storms have passed and the rain has stopped, so it’s time for me to take a trip around the farm in the golf cart before settling down to grade essays and write lesson plans.   Hubby has also cooked something that smells delicious, so eating is probably my first priority.   We have come through another storm front without damage and bees, trees, and vegetables are all doing well.   Life is good on the farm.

 

Bee Stings · Construction · Gardening · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee · Storage

Slowly Moving West

We have started taking plants and boxes of household goods to the farm — just what will fit in the vehicles each time and what we have had time to pack.  Most of the bee stuff is down there now, which makes getting around in the 40-foot container challenging!   Still, the bees are rapidly going through the frames we’ve built, so empty totes come back to the city with us in time to be refilled.

Shop Site
Shop Site

Building the shop has become a priority so that we have more space to put things and so that we have a clean space to sling honey this summer.  As we want to sell in Georgia, we need to be certified in Georgia.   Hubby spent most of the weekend leveling the shop site and was working on trenching to install conduit last time I talked to him.   (I came back early to get laundry done for the week.)    Our neighbor has been a great help, both in terms of giving advice and helping on the tractor.   His company will be pouring the slab next week and then the construction can start.  It’s exciting!

Spring border
Daffodil, iris, crinum lily, and other spring transplants.

Even though there was a lot to get done, hubby was still willing to help me get spring bulbs transplanted.  They’re all looking rather sad right now, but I know from experience that they’ll look great next spring, if not before.   The grass and wildflower seeds are doing well, and I added some clover seed and fertilizer yesterday.   If we can just get enough growing to slow down the erosion, we’ll have a less muddy driveway when we get those Southern downpours!   The drainage ditches hubby, my brother-in-law, and I have cut are making a huge difference, and plants will just be the final touch we need.

Smoker
Smoker with new bellows

Of course, we didn’t neglect the bees this weekend, even with all the other tasks we needed to accomplish.    We had to replace the bellows on one of our smokers, and we love this new Pro Bellow from Mann Lake.   There’s a nozzle at the bottom that blows air directly into the smoker, and that has made it easier to get the smoker lit.   I’ll let you know how it holds up, but for now I’m sold!

I intended to just check the queenless hives, but we ended up checking all the hives for space after seeing how much nectar the bees have brought in over the past week.   Two hives have already started capping honey, and I only saw three small hive beetles all day.  There were no new wasp nests started in lids, but there were enough cockroaches on top of inner covers to keep the hair on the back of my neck standing up!   Talking of hair — if you have short hair, don’t pull your hat too tight — hubby got stung on his head through his cap yesterday!

Bricks on hives
Bricks on hives to indicate which hives have queens, and which do not.

We continue to use a combination of methods to track what’s going on in hives.   A flat brick indicates that the hive has a laying queen, and an upright means that the hive is queenless.   In addition, I write notes on the lids with a Sharpie.  We have three hives with queen cells that have hatched since last weekend, but I didn’t see a queen yesterday, so I like having that history at my fingertips when I go to recheck.   Then we have a spreadsheet in which we track hive inspections, treatments, and mite counts.    That’s becoming quite time-consuming and I’m working on automating some of the reporting and tracking, although I probably won’t get much done until summer.   As my new school starts the new year 3 weeks earlier than South Carolina schools, and we need to get this house on the market, and build the workshop, and move my work clothes, I may not find much time to refine the database while keeping up with a growing apiary!    It’s a good set of problems to have!

We’re looking forward to May’s Mid-Carolina Beekeeper Association meeting on Tuesday.  Has it really been a month since the last meeting?   Time flies in spring, which is why we all have to get hive equipment ready in winter!

Enjoy the (finally) warmer weather and take time to smell the roses.

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.