We have so much to be thankful for this year, as always. We have just started our 6th year as the owners this beautiful property and we continue to make progress. Our mobile home now has brick underpinning, the honey kitchen is framed in the workshop, and even more blackberries have been cut back. We also have official building plans. Like so many other people, we are now waiting for an available electrician for the honey kitchen and an affordable quote for the house, but we have a roof over our head, jobs, and good health.
As always, the tiny kitchen made baking the French tart challenging, and I spent a lot of time wishing for my new kitchen while getting ready for Thanksgiving meals. We are both trying to focus on our progress and not give in to the frustration of trying to get tradespeople out here! But we have a forever-house in our future and a small deck overlooking the creek that is perfect for day-dreaming about the view from the back porch of the house in due time.
Our somewhat rainy summer this year led to a record honey harvest. We were able to pull spring honey at the end of May and then summer honey when the sourwood trees stopped blooming in July. We are also going into winter with hives that have good stores of goldenrod honey. The two locations that we seeded with nematodes over the last few years now have minimal small hive beetle issues, and the new NUC yard has been a good experimental control as the hives there have been inundated with the pests. We’ll order another batch from Arbico in spring and get that area treated as well. Also, we have not had a single wax moth problem all year, which is cause for celebration in itself as those larvae and so disgusting and even the chickens won’t eat them.
The chickens are another blessing, although with 11 hens we have been somewhat over-blessed with eggs this summer. Now that they days are shorter and the two older are girls recovering from a molt, the number of eggs in manageable. We still have plenty to give to friends and family, but part of that is because we just simply needed a break from scrambled eggs for breakfast every morning!
I hope that life is as good for you, my readers, as it is for us here on the farm. I love the day after Thanksgiving, because the cooking and cleaning are done and I have time to look back through old blogs and see how far we have come with this wonderful adventure we are on. Now I need to get outside, take the dog for a run, and appreciate the farm from the other side of the office window!
This year has been odd in regards to honey production. We would normally harvest wildflower honey early June and sourwood honey in July, but June was a bust. We ended up with one medium plastic frame that wouldn’t seat in the extractor and one large frame that fell apart and dumped all the comb in the bottom. While we were able to extract about five pounds over about two hours, the time spent was not worth the output.
However, the bees packed the frames when the sourwood trees were blooming, so we have honey coming — we’re just waiting for the girls to cap the honey! Just in case the honey was actually ready to harvest, Hubby bought a honey refractometer. The last remaining bit of honey we have from last year contains 16% moisture. What is in the hives was still at 20% a week ago. Below 17.8%, the honey will not spoil , but until it gets there, we and our customers are waiting.
Our biggest problem with that right now is the increase is small hive beetles and the decrease in available resources for the bees. Small hive beetle larva can ruin a frame on uncapped honey very quickly if the hive population is low, so we’re keeping an eye on that. We’re also holding off on supplemental feeding as we don’t want any sugar syrup making its way into our honey supers. Once we’ve pulled honey, we’ll split strong hives, feed them well, and try to build up strength before the fall nectar flow starts.
In early spring, we had an abandoned hive that was rife with small hive and wax moth larvae — the chicks loved it! A not-so-nice part of me already feels intense satisfaction feed Japanese beetles to the chickens, but I’m still hoping to not have any chicken treats in our hives — especially as the chickens have not yet started to repay our kindness with eggs!
Hopefully we’ll get to pull honey this weekend. If not, I will attempt my first hot-process soap. Life is good on the farm, and we never run out of things to do!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!)
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.