Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing

Giving Thanks

Campfire
Campfire

It seems appropriate that we purchased the farm a few days before Thanksgiving because we have an annual reminder to take stock of our progress and be consciously thankful about all of our blessings.   Simply sitting around a campfire and enjoying the peaceful sounds of nature instead of having city sounds encroach into our house and lives at all times of day and night is wonderful.   Lying in bed and watching daybreak without feeling the need to jump up and start working is even better.   It’s not that we don’t have plenty of things to do here, we just have a different mindset once we leave I-20 and start our drive through the country to the farm.

Of necessity, I put groceries away when I arrived yesterday, but once the perishable goods were safely stored, I put my boots on and took a quick walk around.   It was only 60 degrees, but there was a steady stream of bees in and out of every hive.  Some bees even had huge bags of dark orange pollen.   While there are still some yellow-jackets and flies, they are fewer in number, although the traps don’t seem to have contributed much to the reduction.  Still, we’re thankful that we can step into the bee yard without having to suit up and even more thankful that the entrance reducers are keeping the invaders out.  Best of all is that the bees are doing well.

We have decided to move the hives to a sunnier spot over winter break as we have one corner of the present apiary where hive beetles just thrive.   I may start leveling out some of the ground where the hives will go this weekend.   That brings me to another thing to be thankful for: the tractor.   We have the best neighbors and family who have loaned us equipment over the two years we have owned this land.  We would not be where we are without them.  However, being able to buy our own tractor has been a game-changer because we have unlimited time to use it when we’re here.   Our neighbor is always willing to let us borrow equipment for as long as we like, but we don’t like to take advantage of his generosity.   While we still have some of his tractor implements over here, we are not getting in the way of him being able to bush-hog or do all of the other things a tractor helps with.

Sitting here with an old computer that is trying to run a month’s worth of updates over a cell-phone hot spot makes me thankful that we get away from technology (to an extent) while we’re here.   While our computers at home and at work are faster, they do have a tendency to run updates any time we’re in a hurry to get something done!    I spend so much time looking at computer screens that I could no longer read student essays on the computer after the first hour last week and this.   Last night was the first night in a long time that my left eye did not throb with eyestrain.   While a new pair of bi-focals would probably help alleviate that problem, looking at trees solves it!   I’m too much of a geek to ever abandon technology completely, but too much time in front of a computer is not physically or mentally healthy.

That said, it’s time to put on some boots and head outside.   It’s a beautiful, sunny day and temperatures are just right for doing manual labor.   The dog is so clearly having fun that we can’t help but smile to see her cavorting about.   I honestly don’t know what we’d do without the stress relief that the farm provides, or the friends and family that it brings us closer to, or the dreams for the future that become more tangible when we just stop and make plans.    I hope all of you have a relaxing and stress-free Thanksgiving holiday and that life is as good to you as it is to us.

 

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Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - General · Relaxing

Fall and yellow jackets

Fall 2017
Fall 2017

While temperatures remain above average, we only have to look at the spectacular fall colors (and occasionally grab a jacket in the morning) to know that winter is just around the corner.    Of course, everything in nature knows it too — including yellow jackets.

Beekeepers across southern Georgia have been reporting record numbers of yellow jackets this year, and we are no exception.   The infestation around our hives made it impossible to do any hive checks this weekend.   However, the screen entrance reducers that we added to the wooden reducers have made it possible for even the weaker hives to defend against the horrific number of pests vying for the resources our bees have worked so hard to store.   Hubby bent strips of screen into steps in a way that the bees enter from the sides through a square opening and then make their way to the wooden entrance in the middle.   I don’t feel like I’m explaining it well, but I’ll get a picture once the yellow jackets die back.    We did very quickly check the candy board on one of the hives and the bees have eaten about half the sugar we put on two weeks ago — or is it three?   We know that next time we make candy boards we will put wax paper on top of the screen so that the sugar has time to harden.   The sugar that fell through has assuredly attracted some of the invaders!

Lavender
Lavender

As neither checking the weak hive nor doing any work close to the apiary was an option, I weeded the lavender garden and threw out a little more buckwheat seed.   It’s probably too late for the seed to do much, but who knows when these warm temperatures will end?   Bees are foraging on the buckwheat planted in front of the RV, so the possibility of blocking new weeds, adding nitrogen into the soil, and providing bee food is too tempting to resist.

I let my lavender plants in the city grow until they became very straggly and woody.   Then, when I pruned them back, two of them didn’t survive.   I don’t want to make that mistake again, so I, somewhat reluctantly, trimmed lavender and rosemary plants today and now have a good harvest to hang in the well house to dry.   To say that my last attempt to make lavender oil was unsuccessful would be an understatement — baby oil with coconut oil makes an awful base — so I’m looking forward to a second attempt.   However, I did successfully use mineral oil to make a batch of lemon grass oil, which I then used to make beeswax furniture polish, so that’s what I’ll try with at least some of this lavender.    Hmmmm – maybe I should re-read the book I have about making products with lavender before I decide….

So, as we are rapidly approaching the time to make the commute back to city life, I am happy to report that I have blisters instead of eye strain and a relaxed mind and body that find it impossible to feel any stress.    We got to spend a wonderful evening with family yesterday.  We got to hear about our neighbors’ road trip. Maggie got to spend time with all of her doggy friends.  The lavender garden looks like a garden again.   There are a whole lot of things that didn’t go as planned this weekend, but somehow when we’re here, plans feel less important.   Life is good and getting better all the time!

 

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!

Bees · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

Many Happy Returns

If you read my blog from two weeks ago, you’ll know that at that time we did not have a single bee anywhere in our yard — not even on a feeder bucket.   Well, we left the bucket out and on Thursday we found a handful of bees feasting away.    There were a few more yesterday, and even more today.   All of the foragers are young bees, which supports our premise that the old field force was killed off.   The timing would be about right for nurse bees to have graduated to being foragers.

Another exciting thing about these bees is that there are some black bees mixed in with the regular Italians.   Black bees have a reputation of being aggressive, but they are also known to be resistant to varroa mites.   We would love to add some of those genetics to our bee colonies.   Black bee numbers were decimated in the early 1900s by tracheal mites, and some thought they had been completely wiped out, but researchers have found some in Europe and in the United States.     The ones on the bucket are certainly not aggressive as hubby and I have both coaxed some onto our hands to get a closer look.   Of course, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be aggressive around their hive.   We plan to leave feeders out over winter even though we don’t have any active hives in our yard.   If we can support the local bee population, we are still achieving one of our goals.   If we attract another swarm — well, that would be icing on the cake!

While I was watching the bees and listening to their happy buzzing,  I noticed leaves on the Flame Azalea in our memory garden.  This particular azalea was planted in memory of my aunt as its vibrant colors just reminded me of her.   The plant is also a native plant, not a modern hybrid, and Aunt Joan was so very English in all the best ways.   I’m not saying she was old-fashioned, because she wasn’t.   She was an inspiration, multi-talented, and full of life.   I know the azalea is just a plant, but I felt a sense of loss  when it died.   While I still thought about Aunt Joan every time I looked at the bare twigs (I couldn’t bear to dig it up), that didn’t cheer me up much!    I am so happy to see new growth and am looking forward to next spring when it bursts into oranges, reds, and yellows again.

Without much hope, I thought that if the azalea could come back, maybe the Japanese Maple would too.    Now this tree marks the resting place of our daughter’s cat, so it doesn’t have quite the emotional connection for me that the other plants in the memory garden have, but when it died, I felt like I’d let our daughter down.   The last thing she needs to see when she walks over there is a dead twig!   Lo and behold — new buds and one new leaf.

The idea of a memory garden started when a co-worker gave me tulip bulbs to plant in memory of my father.   Tulips do not typically regenerate in the heat and the sandy soil of central South Carolina, but these tulips have returned every year.   I enjoy seeing perennials pop back up every year anyway, but that joy takes on a different facet when it is combined with happy memories of those who were so loved so much.

The memory garden will be hard to leave behind when we finally move to the farm full time, but we are trying to root cuttings from all the shrubs to take with us.   If that fails, we’ll buy new shrubs of the same kind to put in the memory garden we have already started down there.    That garden already has English blue-bells and daffodils planted in it.  It’s going to take some time to convince the summer weeds to stay out of there, but we’ll win that battle!    My parents, Aunt Joan, and hubby’s parents all loved gardening.   What better way to remember them all than to dig in the soil and create something beautiful?

 

Lazer Creek Apiary

We’ve been robbed! (By hornets)

One of the challenges with commuting back and forth between our current home and our future home is our inability to always react to warning signs when we see them.   It’s frustrating, but currently unavoidable.

Back in August when we were in a nectar dearth, we noticed some big, ugly hornets around that we had never seen before.   We also had one formerly strong hive that had been abandoned.   We wondered whether the two were connected, but we had to head back to the land of the paychecks and just hoped for the best.

Eurpoean Hornet - Vespa Crabro
Eurpoean Hornet – Vespa Crabro

As always, one of the first things I did yesterday was check bees.   Four of our 25 hives had no or little activity, while other hives were very active gathering resources.   Bees were returning with huge bags of pollen and traffic in and out was heavy.   I knew I couldn’t check all the hives, so the four worrisome ones became my priority.   Sadly, three of the hives were devoid of bees or any manner of resources.   At the bottom of one of the hives we discovered a dead hornet.   Mystery solved: the hives had clearly been robbed by European hornets — the largest hornet in America.

The hornet in the picture clearly hasn’t been dead long, so we assume the critters have been moving from hive to hive.  Before we drive back today, we’re going to make sure every hive has an entrance reducer and that all reducers are using the small entrance.  This will make it far easier for bees to defend their homes.   The hive in which we found the dead hornet — and it was at the back, far from the entrance — was a very strong hive when we last checked it.   Our records also show that the queen was young and producing well.    One of the other hives was less strong, percentage wise, but had two brood boxes on it, so there should have been plenty of bees in that one to defend from invasion.   The third hive was not strong and was queenless last inspection, but with queen cells about to hatch.   It’s debatable whether than one failed because of the hornets or because of the transition to a new queen.

The last hive I checked was happily doing well, and I did see the queen actively running around looking for a good place to lay more eggs.   They have pollen and nectar stored, and they now have an entrance reducer.    Still, if we assume that the hive we lost in August was also because of the hornets, we’ve lost four hives to hornets in just over a month.  We need to do whatever we can to combat them.   For us, pesticides are not an option.   We’ll do more research about them before we come back and hopefully have some ideas to try.   The good news is that we haven’t actually seen any this trip — maybe Hurricane Irma blew them to another state!

Bee yard
Bee equipment yard

Speaking of the hurricane, we’ve been able to restore order to the bee yard.   Just like the kitchen cabinet reno, we saw this as an opportunity to re-organize and take inventory.   It’s amazing how putting a positive spin on things makes restacking bee-boxes fee a little less tedious.   It was a harder to clean out dead hives and frame that as a learning experience, but we will install entrance reducers at the first sign of fall dearth from now on!  (Or maybe anytime huge hornets are in the neighborhood.)   Other good post-hurricane news is that hubby, with the help of our wonderful neighbor, was able to successfully to take down the wind-blown tree that was in danger of falling on the power line.    Thanks again, BH!    Additionally, the two NUC boxes in the foreground of the picture are the only ones that were crushed by the falling tree.  We have so much to be thankful for.

 

Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

What’s going on?

Last week, I mentioned that our one hive in the city was abandoned right after the eclipse.   The bees were a swarm capture, and they were doing really well, so it was a surprise to walk up there one day and find no bees whatsoever.  What’s currently more surprising is that there are no bees to be seen at all in our yard.

Over at my husband’s workplace and the stores around there, bees are searching for resources in trashcans, showing that there is a definite nectar (sugar) dearth five miles from here.  Our neighbor at the farm is seeing the same thing — bees are going after what is left in soda cans.  This is something we haven’t seen before, and we assume it has something to do with the high winds and the torrential rains from Hurricane Irma.

In hopes of attracting some bees to the back yard and maybe capturing a fall swarm, I put out a syrup bucket early yesterday morning.   Our thought was that even if we don’t capture a swarm, we are helping local bees survive until the ubiquitous Goldenrod recovers enough to provide them what they need leading into winter.   After two days, we don’t have a single bee on the bucket.   I sprayed some extra Honey-B-Healthy around the bucket this morning as that is as enticing to a bee as good cheesecake is to me, but still no bees.   I just have to wonder whether the media-induced frenzy about mosquitoes has led to the death of all feral hives within 2 miles of our home, especially considering the EPA-confirmed pesticide kill we experienced last year.

Bees routinely fly up to two miles to find resources, and even further if that becomes necessary.   Of course, like us, they will “shop” locally if the “stores” offer what they need.   Bees five miles from here are dumpster-diving for sugary drinks with lots of added chemicals;  it makes no sense that we do not have a single bee on our zinnias, clover, garlic flowers, or syrup.  Here’s hoping that changes soon…..

Better news is that we have very little damage at the farm.

Our neighbors had already checked for damage right after the storm, but hubby was actually able to go down and check things out for himself this weekend.   One pine came down in the bee yard.  While it crushed a few empty hive boxes, it missed all of the hives , and all the hives are happily buzzing now that temperatures are back in the 80s.

Tree on fence
Tree on fence

A huge, rotten pine that was hung up in a tree along the street edge of the property also came down, smashing the H-brace at the creek end of the fence.   We have worried about this tree since before we bought the property because there was no good way to bring it down.  It was tall enough to hit the power line if it fell badly, and rotten enough to be a real danger to anyone trying to take it down.   Luckily it did what hubby always hoped it would do and split in the middle, dropping half the tree to the ground and (unluckily) the rest of the tree onto the fence.   We are just happy that it didn’t damage the power line,.

We have a few other, smaller trees down along the fence and two trees along the driveway that need to come down.   We’ll tackle them next weekend when we are both down there — it’s going be a two-person job to bring them down safely.

All-in-all we consider ourselves to be very, very lucky to have not sustained more damage than we did.   Our RV suffered no damage and the power wasn’t off long enough to let the ice in the freezer melt.  (A country tip for checking to see if the power goes off — put a Dixie cup of water in the freezer and place a coin on top of the ice before you leave.  If the coin is still on top when you come back, everything is good.  If the coin is on the bottom, you probably want to throw away any food that’s in there!)

Now we’re just hoping the systems currently in the Atlantic stay in the Atlantic!   Family in Texas is still drying out from Harvey and we’ll be cleaning up from Irma for a while.  Florida simply doesn’t need any more wind or rain for a while.   Our hearts go out to all of those who have sustained damage to their homes and businesses and our hearts are full of gratitude to all the people who have given so much to help those in need.

 

 

 

 

Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary

Battening down the (bee) hatches

With family in Texas still recovering from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma a threat to family in Georgia and South Carolina, we’re a little anxious over what the next few days will bring, but also counting our blessings as so many others are in far more dangerous situations.    We also have even more opportunities to realize how many wonderful people we know, from friends and family who took time to help hubby secure our hives when they certainly had enough of their own property to take care of to the friend who has opened up her pastures to shelter evacuated horses.

Hives
Hives strapped down

Hubby drove down to the farm to secure the hives and hive equipment as much as possible.   He, his brother, and a friend pounded pickets into the ground on either side of each hive and strapped each hive down.   The bees appear to know what’s coming because no bees were out foraging, even though they love the buckwheat that is right outside their door.   They’re all abuzz inside but didn’t even check out what the guys were doing.

Lawnmower
Lawnmower

Even my Beverly-Hillbillies-reject lawnmower got it’s own ratchet strap.   It’s not pretty to start with, but it’s still better than cutting all the grass we’ve been able to get growing with the push mower.   Of course, a bigger concern is our RV.   It’s also not the prettiest in the world, but we’ve put a lot of work and a lot of love into our home-away-from-home, and we already have so many good memories of our first 18 months with friends and family at our future full-time home.   Still, the RV is of secondary concern to the bees, as they are not only our business but also living creatures that are just trying to get ready for winter.

We’ve already lost our city bees.   They were crawling all over the outside of the hive in confusion as we headed into the eclipse a couple of weeks ago.   Right after the eclipse, they went back inside, but the guard bees were very aggressive.   We came back from the farm the following weekend to find the hive abandoned.  A yard without bees is so very strange these days — I still walk up to the hive when I get home from work hoping to find new occupants!

Our thoughts go out to everyone who is in the path of the storm.  Put safety ahead of material goods and we’ll see you when the skies clear.