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?

 

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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!

Bee Stings · Lazer Creek Apiary · Pests - Bees

Helicopters and Bees

For the past three days, helicopters have flown low over the area, usually in the mornings.  The timber company across the creek is either thinning trees or clear-cutting, so maybe they’re checking the progress.   During the fly-overs today, hubby was checking hives across the road at the neighbor’s sunflower field and I was checking some of our hives — we both found out that bees don’t like helicopters.

https://pixabay.com/en/bees-angry-insect-yellow-black-44527/
Angry Bee from pixabay.com

It’s interesting to listen to the recording of my hive inspection because there is a clear change in the tone and volume of the bee buzzes after the chopper made the first pass.   The bees were nervous at that point, but not too aggressive.  After the second pass, the bees just boiled out of the hive and started stinging in a way that I have never experienced before.   I was able to fend off some by pulling my BDUs away from my legs, but I ended up with 8 stings — a record for me.   Even more unusual was that a handful of bees followed me all the way back to the RV and kept up with me driving at 12 mph on the ATV!

We wish we could find out when any future flights are likely to take place so that we could schedule hive inspections around them.   We both know that if we hear a chopper coming and we’re in a hive, we’re going to end that inspection there and then and get the hive put back together.

To end on a positive note,  7 of the hives we inspected today are full of nectar.  This time last year, we were in a drought and had to feed sugar water to sustain the hives.   Sunflowers and sourwood trees are blooming and our bees are clearly taking advantage of all the resources they can find.   We may even be able to pull some more honey before the end of summer.

 

Bee Rescue/Removal · Pests - Bees · Queen Bee

Happy People: Happy Bees

Last night, as we were deciding which trees were ready to fend for themselves at the farm, hubby spotted another swarm of bees in our yard.  Once again, they were behind the trealis and a fence post. The poor honeysuckle is still recovering from the last swarm extraction, and this time the two grapevines got to share the pain!   (I should know in a couple of weeks whether or not grapevines can be rooted from “cuttings”!)

Swarm – April 7

These bees were quite cooperative.  Hubby scooped a couple of handfuls into a NUC, I squirted some Honey B Healthy onto the inner cover, we gave them a stick to use as a bridge and they pagenented right on in.  By the time we’d checked the other hives, only two lost bees were still wandering around on the fence.

One of our other splits now has the fattest queen I have ever seen, so that NUC made the trip to the farm and the bees are already bringing in loads of white pollen.  We moved them up to an 8-frame so that they could get over all of their confusion about the new location at once and they seem to be as happy as clams.    The queen cells in the sister NUC have hatched, but we didn’t see a queen.  Hopefully she will find her way home in a couple of days.

The other hives at the farm are all active, but we didn’t check them today.   Hubby is digging more tenches for water lines and I planted some tomatoes and thyme.   We are really curious to see whether the diatomaceous-earth we sprinkled on the ground two weeks ago has had any impact on the small hive beetles.  It’s supposed to kill them when they go back onto the ground to pupate.   Now that the hives are stronger, we aren’t seeing as much of a problem as when we came out of that really cold snap, but we’d love to see no beetles at all.   It still seems like having the hive in a sunny spot works wonders, but that is going to make hive checks challenging in July.

The dog is chewing on a pine-cone, hubby is working hard, and I’m enjoying sitting out in the 72 degree sunshine.  It’s amazing to sit here at this time of day and see just how many insects are flying around at any given time and at how many spider webs are catching the sunlight.   Even with the sound of the Ditch Witch, the farm is so peaceful and just a good place to be.   We are just so very lucky and happy to be here.

Pests - Bees

Small Hive Beetles

Small hive beetles are much like vampires in that they hate sunlight, which is probably why I saw no evidence of beetles in my English hive which sits in the middle of a sunny spot, but huge numbers of beetles in our hives in a relatively shady area.   Adjacent hives even have different levels of infestation, with the strongest hives having lower numbers of beetles.   While I can’t turn a weaker hive into prize fighters overnight, I can do something about the sunshine, which is why I spent much of yesterday shifting the brush line further back from Bee Lane.   Hives that were in the shade at 10:00 a.m. yesterday were in full sunlight this morning. We hope that helps somewhat.   We have mineral oil traps (Beetle Blaster) in the hives, but our schedules haven’t allowed us to maintain them and let them do their job — which they do very well!

One thing the beetles have managed to do is get me beyond being squeamish about squishing bugs!   When I lived alone, my preferred bug disposal method was a vacuum cleaner stretched out at arms’ length and a can of Raid.  (Sometimes the whole can, according to Hubby’s version of certain stories.) Teaching got me to the point of being able to chase a cockroach down with a broom and dustpan so as not to let my students see how much doing that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up!   Beekeeping now has me using my hive tool to squish beetles and moths and even using it to kill a roach yesterday.    Sadly for Hubby, none of that translates into me taking care of bugs in the house,  as there is no rational reason to be scared of creepy crawlies in the first place, I’m not even going to try to figure out why outdoor-me and indoor-me have such contradictory attitudes towards some things at times!

Other projects in the works this week are staining the door to the well house with Minwax White Pickling Stain, clearing the area around the beautiful old culvert, planting trees, planting the remaining daffodil bulbs, fencing, and weed eating.    More about those later. 

Maggie

Maggie continues to enjoy the farm, and expends enough energy to power a small city while running in circles like a grey hound and digging holes in which to bury her bones.   Her favorite toys when we are here are a tennis ball and empty diet Coke bottles.   She is the first dog either of us has had that actually fetches sticks — it just has be the “right” stick.   She also loves racing the four-wheeler and can keep up with Hubby when he’s driving over 15 m.p.h.   She travels better now, which is good as she spits out motion sickness pills even when they are wrapped up in pill pockets.    We love having a dog again.  We love being here at the farm.  We even love our tiny house on wheels.   Life is good.