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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Queen Bee · Supplemental Feeding

Pollen Substitute and Regicide

I guess I need to start by telling you that the pollen substitute did not cause the regicide — I was an accessory to that crime, but I have no idea of how hubby actually disposed of the evil queen once I helped catch her!    We have another hive that has just become more and more unreasonable over time, and they now go straight for the upper thighs when we even approach them, never mind get started with a hive inspection.   We had purchased a new queen — one that was purported to be from a calm strain and also a strain that is very good at dealing with Varroa Mites.   After we removed the old queen, we waited 24 hours to re-queen, placed her in a queen introduction frame, sprayed the frame and the frames in the hive with Honey B Healthy to mask her pheromones — and they still killed her.     Talk about frustrating.   We’ve had other evil hives turn nice, so we haven’t given up on them yet, but I have had quite a few choice words for them over the past month.

Queen Introduction Frame
Queen Introduction Frame

The production of new brood has fallen off in all of our hives over the past month, and we really want to build them up before the fall flowers (Goldenrod and White Milkweed, mainly) start to bloom.    We’ve noticed that all of the hives have a lot of nectar and honey stored, but very little pollen, so we decided to give the pollen substitute another try.

Bees Collect Pollen Substitute
Bees Collect Pollen Substitute

Now, when we put this stuff out in spring, the bees showed no interest whatsoever.   This time, they are flocking to it like the dog to canned food!   We already saw an increase in bee bread in the frames of hives we inspected yesterday.    I placed the first batch in bird feeder that gave the bees plenty of access at the bottom, but provided shelter from rain.  I only put a small amount in and the bees crawled through the holes, through the inch high pollen, and became trapped in the feeder.   I understand why a little better now that we’ve watched them roll the powder around, roll around in the powder, and generally behave like little dung beetles rolling the powder up into little balls which they then take home with them.  By the end of the first day,  they had moved all the remaining powder to one end of the cookie sheet — and there was not much remaining.

Of course, my English hive has to be different and they are showing little interest in the powder that I laid out in a tray especially for them up in their private garden!   I did experiment with some supplement with sugar water and giving them a protein shake — they loved that.   Maybe they are just spoiled.  Maybe they like soup.   They were in the supplement dish this morning trying to get to the rain water-supplement mush.

When we were updating our hive inspection spreadsheet last night, we started a new page to track available resources by date.   Hubby had noted last year that the pollen death starts around the same time that the pink and white Crepe Myrtles bloom in our garden.    There was also a nectar dearth last year because of the drought, but this year the bees keep bringing in nectar, but not enough pollen.   We now know to watch for this next year and maybe get the pollen substitute out sooner.

We continue to battle small hive beetles, but we’ve cut the brush back from around the hives again and we know that helps.   I plan to put some landscape fabric down to minimize what can grow back, and we’ve also discussed relocating the hives over time.  The area right behind the hives is so very uneven, with trenches that are above knee-height, that we can’t bush hog in there until we do some leveling and clear some of the timber-harvesting debris.  We can’t continue to weed eat that much, but that’s what it takes to keep the blackberries and vines at bay.     The hives that are coming back from the sunflower field we definitely be in the other cleared lane and we’ll put some DE and landscape fabric down under the hive stands before we even go get them.   There is still so much to do and there is so little summer left — we really need to spend some time panning for gold down at the creek so that we can stay here forever!

 

Hive equipment · Home Remedies · Honey · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

Rain is a Good Thing

Luke Bryan sings that “rain makes corn…” but we are happy that rain also makes honey.   This time last year we were in a severe drought in both Georgia and South Carolina and our bees had few resources of their own to get them through the dearth.  Right now, there are no signs of a dearth in our hives;  we are seeing lots of nectar and a fair amount of honey in every hive.

Bees on sunflower
Bees on sunflower

The sourwood trees have just about finished blooming, and the sunflowers over at our neighbor’s are kicking into high gear with beautiful, dinner-plate sized blossoms.    We have three hives pollinating his sunflower plot and they are clearly loving life.   Sunflower honey is reputed to aid gastrointestinal, respiratory, and kidney health, although it has a downside of crystallizing faster than most other honeys.   We are hoping to harvest  sunflower honey in August, but we don’t know how much we’ll have this year as we only had new frames available to put in the hives and that is going to slow down honey production as the bees will first have to draw comb.   We’ll be better prepared next year.

Hives on sunflower plot
Hives on sunflower plot

We inspected some of the hives with bees that tend to crawl on the ground and up our pants legs yesterday, and the blousing garters we bought appear to be doing their job of keeping the bees on the outside of the pants legs!   Today was a much more enjoyable day as all three hives we inspected originate from the same queen and they are the kindest, gentlest bees we have.   They also appear to be very good at keeping pests at bay, although two of the hives had spiders in the lid which added some humor to the voice recordings!    The bees had killed one of the spiders, but it was still quite fresh and squished in the most disgusting way under hubby’s hive tool.    I have overcome my dislike of bugs enough to squish most hive pests, but I’ve apparently got a long way to go before I squish spiders — or stop screeching when I see one!

These hives also oddly avoid the bottom brood boxes on their hives and will only lay eggs in there when they absolutely have no other room.    We have often spotted swarm queen cells in an upper box of a hive that has plenty of room in the “basement.”   One hive even preferred to use the entrance at the top of the hive until we put a screen inner cover on for additional ventilation and thereby forced them to exit through the “normal” opening.

Screen inner covers offer more ventilation for bees, which is especially important here in the south and when transporting bees.   We’ve also observed wax moths and spiders on top of the screens, unable to enter the hive.   Since we switched to using these in summer, we have not seen a single wax moth inside a hive.    Our hives that always struggle with small hive beetles are also able to herd the beetles out of the hive proper and above the screen.   We were horrified yesterday at the number of beetles in two of the hives, but almost all of them were above the screen.   We added borax traps on top of the screens and we’re using beetle blasters inside each hive to help reduce the numbers.   We’re getting closer to denuding the area around the hives in our problem area as we know sunlight deters the beetles — there’s just so much timber-cutting trash mixed in with the vegetation in that area so we can’t simply bush-hog.

All-in-all, we are very happy with the progress our hives are making.   We no longer have any hives that are aggressive without provocation, although we have a couple that I would like to re-queen with stock from the “nice” hives.   We are not having to supplemental feed bees this July and we have recovered all of our winter losses.  We’ve gone a week with neither helicopters nor bee stings!   Life is good on the farm!

Bees · Hive equipment

A Sweet Reward

Swarm

Today was one of those awful days that ended a rather stressful work week followed by a text from hubby to remind me to get the oil changed in my car on the way home.   Geeeesh … didn’t he know I wasn’t in the mood to do that.  Or maybe he knew I was even less in the mood to have to ask him to take the car in for me.  Either way, surprise number one was that I do indeed have a cabin air filter in my car.  We’ve been told multiple times that I don’t, and the dust keeps piling up on the dash and the air conditioner blows warm air at the rate of a soft summer breeze.   Now the air from the vents almost blows my hair back out of my face!

Surprise number two was even better.  I made my usual evening walk around the yard and said hello to all my bee-buddies.  On the way back to the house, I noticed that the Major Wheeler Honeysuckle had new blooms on it.  That thing hasn’t stopped flowering all winter, but it is now adding buds like crazy — or was before we chopped a whole lot of it off about an hour ago.  While I was walking toward the fence to admire the flowers, I noticed something odd.  That something odd turned out to be a swarm of bees.

Swarm in the lattice

Swarms can be really good because they add genetic lines to the exiting apiary.   They are also good simply because they make me happy!  There were as many, if not more, bees behind the lattice as in front of it and almost all are now tucked away safe and warm in their new home.   We have not yet found the queen, but the bees did start to pageant into the NUC after a while, which is normally a good sign.  Temperatures are supposed to drop to the low 30s tonight, so we’re glad we caught them when we did.

We bent the lattice back and cut many of the vines to get the bees out of there.  Some that started flying around settled in another clump in the middle of the next sheet of lattice while others hid behind the fence post.   We got what we could with a bee brush and smoke and then tried a bee-vac on the remaining couple of handfuls.   We’re still not sure about the bee-vac — some bees got tangled up in the felt that they are supposed to bounce against and some appeared stunned, cold, or dead.  While we hate to lose any bees, trying to get a handful out of a tight corner was a better experiment than trying to suck up a full swarm.   We’ll have to find some non-living things to test levels of air-flow with.
 
Still, a day full of annoyances turned out to be an incredibly wonderful day after all.  This is the second swarm we have caught in two weeks — one just moved into the queen castle while we weren’t looking and started setting up house.   Our bees at the farm were bouncing back after their fight with the hive beetles last weekend, and we’ll soon have some more hives to take down there.  

City Life · Hive equipment

Delays, delays, and more delays!

Bee on lavender, June 2016

Last week we spent two days at the farm, went to workshops, and returned home for dental appointments.  We had planned to head back to the farm yesterday, but that didn’t work out.   We intended to check the bees in the out yards on Saturday, and are just getting around to doing so today.  It’s been a busy weekend and week.

The good news is that I was able to get the bones of the website coded and uploaded.  It took me a while to get back into writing HTML, but that part of my brain finally kicked back into gear and I’m happy with the design.  I have used CoffeeCup Software for web design for at least 15 years, but this was my first time using their Responsive Site Designer to create a template which I then edited through the HTML editor.   If I decide to start creating websites for other people again, I will probably buy and spend the time learning to use the site designer, but for now it was less of a learning (relearning) curve to just do things the old-fashioned way!   I’ve also really enjoyed taking and editing photographs to use on the site.    We still have to take inventory and then decide on pricing for items, but updating that won’t take me long at all.  The deciding is going to be what sucks all the time out of the days ahead!

 

Brushy Mountain English Hive

We used one of the website pictures for our business cards so that the site and the cards have similar themes.   We realized that we needed to get cards when we met many great people at the workshops last week.  The business card picture features the English Hive that hubby won at the Bee Institute — we set it up next to one of our Adirondack chairs  and I love sitting there watching the bees fly in and out.

Hubby also cut wood and built hive boxes, covers, and bottom boards, which I then painted.  I do have to wonder about his math sometimes as I’m sure he told me there were 10 covers to paint.  I stopped counting at 13…..   Maybe he didn’t think I’d go outside to start painting if I knew the real scope of the project.  (He’s probably right — it was HOT out there!)

Now we just have to replace the rusted-out bolts from a toilet tank, check the other toilets to see how close they are to springing leaks, vacuum seal and freeze the whiskey-honey ribs I cooked yesterday , and then maybe take a nap before deciding when to leave the big city for the peace and quiet of the country.   Not being on the farm has been frustrating, but the days in the city have been productive and satisfying.

Bees · Hive equipment

Bees in slow motion

A friend who is hosting some of our bees in an out-yard sent us a recording of some bee-acrobatics this afternoon.   He slowed the video down — it’s so interesting to see them, but even more so to hear them, in slow motion.   (The audio is so much better on my phone than on my laptop speakers.)  As much time as we’ve spent watching the critters land, take off, and collide, we are still fascinated with this clip.   In fact, it’s taken me far too long to type this small paragraph because I keep going back to watch the video again.

Other updates from today: 
We are pretty sure we have a new queen.  We saw her, and then lost her.  She was on a packed frame and the bees were animated, so we moved that frame to a Nuc along with some brood, nectar, and honey, and we will check on them again mid-week.  We didn’t see any eggs yet, so maybe we imagined a queen or maybe she hasn’t started laying yet.

The queen in our second strongest hive is laying at an incredible rate, so we filled the newly vacated slots in the queen castle with some frames from that hive — partly to try to grow another queen, but partly to discourage the lady from swarming.  

The one worrisome hive in one of the out-yards had even fewer bees yesterday, so hubby evicted them and then gave them a twig to climb up to reach their new home in an established hive.  As temperatures hovered around freezing last night with a wind chill that only made things worse, those guys probably would not have survived the night in their old hive.  We still have no idea what happened to the queen.   If we see evidence of a queen in the new Nuc, we’ll move that Nuc to the out-yard and shake some additional bees into it to get them off to a good start.

Our foster-parents are wonderful.   One offered to build fires close to the hives to keep them warm last night, but hubby assured them that the bees would be able to stay warm enough on their own.   We are so enjoying the interest that others are showing.  I know we’re new at this ourselves, but we sometimes feel like old hands.  We see both ourselves in these initiates and see how much we’ve learned in the past year.  I’m still a little jumpy when bees are determinedly bumping into my veil, but I also think some of that is due to my going cross-eyed as my bi-focals try to focus concurrently on the bee, the veil, and the frames that are all at different distances!