Bees · Hive equipment · Lazer Creek Apiary · Supplemental Feeding

Cause for celebration!

New hive stands
New hive stands

While our spring results are not perfect, we are very happy to have only lost two hives this winter.    I thought we went into winter with over 20 hives, but when I updated the records yesterday morning, I found that we have 15 hives.   However, that makes the percentage we lost this winter even better — and our best year yet.   Even the two we lost probably would have made it through if we hadn’t had that incredibly long cold spell.  In fall, we long debated combining them with each other or with other hives as they were not strong, but they also weren’t quite that weak and they had honey.  We added candy boards in December and hoped for the best.   Neither hive even went into the candy boards.  There were actually some resources left in the frames, but the bees died clustered — about 3 cups of bees in each hive.    Sixteen degrees is just too cold and we are counting our blessings that the other hives are doing as well as they are.

With temperatures in the mid seventies on Saturday, many bees were out gathering pollen and every hive still had a good number of bees in the hive.   We even had to add a super to the English hive and the best other hives have 10 frames of bees.  A couple of hives only have three frames, but there was a variety of ages so the queen must be ramping up production.   Despite the sunshine and the warm temperature, the intermittent breeze had a chill to it so I didn’t pull any frames.  I counted frames of bees and tested the weight of the boxes.  It feels like some of the ladies have really been packing sugar into frames!   Hubby helped out on the last two hives and pulled some frames without a large number of bees on them and saw lots of wonderful bee bread, pollen, and nectar.

I was impatient (and over confident) in the morning and did a quick check of candy boards before suiting up.  Our generally worst tempered hive had no sugar left, so I decided to give them one of the candy boards from a dead-out.   The unappreciative little critters stung me right above my top lip, so I spent the rest of the weekend looking like I was trying to do that stupid duck-face thing!   Hopefully I’ll abide by “we live and we learn” in the future.   I almost look normal again today, which is good because I have to get a new ID made tomorrow.

New Wood Ware - New Colors
New Wood Ware – New Colors

While I was checking hives, hubby installed some more hive stands in the new location and then he painted all the new wood ware with paint from the reject shelf at Lowe’s.  I love the new colors!    I know some beekeepers prefer an all-white apiary, but bees orient on color.   That’s my excuse for our rainbow hives, and I’m sticking to it.   I know for sure that hubby would not pick magenta if he was the only one working the bees, but he does like making me happy!   It works out well for both of us as I’d rather have pretty bee hives than jewelry, and you can’t buy a diamond ring for $9.00!

It was so wonderful to spend a weekend at the farm, even with a mouse in the camper!   (That was my motivation to get up at 6:00 a.m.)   I love waking up to the quiet and a view of pine trees.  While we’ll make frequent trips back before then, I’m counting down the days until spring break and a whole week in paradise!

City Life · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

A Mule for Christmas (and other distractions from grading).

During a job interview many years ago,  I was asked whether I’d rather be an art critic or an artist.  I’ve never figured out what that had to do with being a computer programmer, but I do finally know the answer — I want to be an artist — or at least be creative!   I only spent 90 minutes grading this morning before the urge to empty the compost pot became the most important thing in my life, and that led to seeing a bee flying, which led to visiting the bee yard, which led to taking pictures, which led me back to the computer and this blog!   To grade, one must be a critic, and I find it hard to “criticize” according the criteria on a rubric.  Yes, I agree that it’s a fair way to grade, and, yes, students knew what the expectations were for their oral exam, but the happy feelings that blue skies and sunshine evoke makes it hard to give a student a failing grade!   Never mind that my dominant learning style is hands-on activity, my second most dominant is visual, and my least dominant is listening — and here I sit with 17.5 hours of oral exams to listen to.   I should not have procrastinated, and I probably shouldn’t be blogging, but just like every other year I’ll get through it somehow.

Feeding pollen and sugar to bees
Feeding pollen and sugar to bees

It’s only 48 degrees out this morning, but the bees are foraging and we want them to have as much stored as possible going into the predicted 20 degree nights next week, so it wasn’t just procrastination that led me down to the bee yard.  Cold as it is, there were so many bees on the pollen feeder station that I couldn’t get to the trays and had to scatter the pollen-sugar mix where the bees can get to it but the dog can’t.   (Maggie climbed a stack of shipping pallets to get to a pollen tray yesterday — you’d think we didn’t feed her sometimes!)   I so enjoy standing there listening to the sound of happy bees, especially on a day as beautiful as today.   We are just so lucky to have this little piece of heaven to call our own.

Work boots

What does any of this have to do with a mule?   Not much, but our Christmas present to each other this year was a Mighty Mule gate opener.   Well, it was hubby’s Christmas to me, and my gift was to graciously concede that it is money well spent!    Even on a good day, having to get out of the car and walk across the gravel to unlock the gate becomes tedious.   If I’m wearing anything other than my trusty work boots, the likelihood of a twisted ankle increases with the height of the heel.   Rain makes the process even less fun.  Last week’s thunderstorm actually made it somewhat hilarious.   If we do end up moving here before retirement, we need to somehow be able to get out of the gate in all weather still looking presentable enough to show up at work.

It took hubby a while to install the gate opener, partly because of the instructions,  partly because of all the adjustments and settings, and partly because the dog and I were hibernating in the camper instead of helping for much of the time.   By the end of the day on Christmas Day, he had everything working, but then spent most of the next day trying to get it to work right!   The gate opens fine, and even closes after 30 seconds.  The problem was that it randomly re-opened.   That doesn’t offer much security and is likely to run the battery down.   I searched the Internet for answers on our way to the family dinner and found that many people have problems with the wand that detects when a car pulls up to the gate to leave.   Hubby spoke with tech support and tried many things, but the final solution was along the lines of Hotel California — guests who have the code can check in any time they like, but they can never leave!   The wand is going back for a refund and hubby will research other solutions.

Maggie - exhausted
Maggie – exhausted

Well, it’s time to listen to at least a couple more exams — 7 down, 30 to go!   It makes me want to curl up with the dog and just take a nap.




Lazer Creek Apiary · Relaxing · Supplemental Feeding

Looking back, looking forward

Christmas 2017
Christmas 2017

As I sat here last night knitting and watching a western that is older than I, it was impossible to not think back to doing the same thing throughout my teenage years.   True, instead of being dad’s channel-changer, we now have a remote and don’t have to take the two steps to the T.V.  We also had 9 channels, instead of the 3 we both grew up with.   And we got to choose what we watched — something that rarely happened when grown-ups were home and the one-and-only T.V. was in the living room.  Watching a wildlife episode of NOVA afterwards just reinforced the feeling of stepping back in time.   It’s a good feeling.

The deja-vu continues this morning as the fog and drizzle feel very English, although the pine trees do not.  My cousin and I have been reminiscing about our big family Christmases, and he has promised to send me pictures of my uncle in his apiary.   I never knew he kept bees.   I remember the mushroom cellar, wood working shop, the kitchen renovation that took years to complete (I think of him every time I look at our abundance of almost-finish projects!), the incredible garden, and the many other ever-changing interests that made him such an amazing person, but I don’t remember bees.  It’s nice to feel connected to him in one more way.

Talking of apiaries, our hives are all thriving.  I peeked in two of the small hives yesterday and both have a little sugar left on the candy boards.  I doubt the bigger hives have any, but we are less worried about their ability to provide for themselves.   The forecast is for temperatures in the high 60s until Christmas, so I’m debating putting one feeder bucket out and then refilling candy boards for the hives that have them.   I’ll try lifting the hives to assess how much honey they have left, but will only take lids off long enough to swap out candy boards.  I’ll also put a trial tray of pollen substitute and powdered sugar out.  The bees either flock to it or ignore it, so I’ll just dump one cup onto a tray that is protected from the rain.

Now that the great basement debate is over, we look forward to starting the foundation for our house in 2018.   Ideally we’d finish it and start framing, but I don’t want to set myself up for disappointment if we don’t get that far!   There are so very many things that impact what we can accomplish here, but we are overall very happy with our progress.   We hope to finish burning the wood piles over winter break, doing some tractor work on the deck and starting some raised beds that may or may not become hoop houses.   This year’s batch of magnolia seeds are germinating in the greenhouse in the city and I’ll have a new round of lavender, rosemary, and shrub cuttings to plant by spring break.   That reminds me — I have a bag of daffodil bulbs from the Tractor Supply clearance shelf to get in the ground, so I should stop blogging and get to work.

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!

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 · 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!


Supplemental Feeding

Candy Boards – Feeding Bees

Candy boards are a great way to feed the bees in your hives without feeding all of the bees in the neighborhood.    The above video from Brush Mountain uses cooked fondant, which is what we have been doing successfully for two years now — we just poured the fondant into paper plates and placed those on top of the frames.  We had pollen patties in the fridge, not pollen substitute in powder form, and experimented with putting pieces of that in with the fondant, but the bees never seemed interested in eating that.   We were hesitant to leave the remaining pollen in the hive as pollen patties have a reputation for attracting small hive beetles.   While we don’t have much of a problem with SHB in the city, but we do in our out-yards.   Some of the blogs I’ve read about them attracting SHB state that they simply provide another place for the critters to hide.

Fondant is all well and good when cooking for a small number of hives, but when I don’t have time to cook for us, I certainly don’t have time to cook for our winged friends.   Hubby cut down some of the shallow hive bodies that we had and has started making candy boards as described in the video below.

The thing we like about this kind of candy board is, of course, not having to spend 30 minutes boiling syrup followed by another 30 minutes cleaning the kitchen.   The wire bottom also allows more bees to feed at one time.  We also know that every batch of fondant turns out differently — see previous blogs — and I’ve had one batch turn to rock while my back was turned and another batch turn into a gooey mess while sitting in the fridge.   Softer fondants are easier for the bees to digest but are also hygroscopic — hence the mess in the fridge.  With the humidity we have here in the south, we are concerned about sticky goo damaging the wood and trapping bees if we use the method in the first video.   We’ll let you know how these wire-bottom boards work out.
We’ll add some pollen to the candy board to get some brood started in our bee engines – our city hives.   The bees in the city and out-yards bring pollen in throughout winter, but they may need a little more to start producing brood.   With our crazy weather, it’s hard to know when to do this.  We don’t want to start too early as brood gives the bees one more thing to keep warm when temperatures drop, but we don’t want to wait too long either.   We really want to build up our numbers this spring and maybe have some queens to sell to offset some of the costs of starting up our apiary.   We’re going to use a Nicot System to get some queen cells started and hopefully save some time on getting new Nucs started as well as adding a revenue stream.
It’s still winter, but it feels like spring, and this is always a time of year that I find it almost impossible to be patient.   The daffodils are pushing up in the city and even some day lilies are sprouting new leaves.  It was below 20 degrees two weekends ago, over 70 degrees last weekend, and stormy this weekend.  Planting seeds this early is usually pointless, but I’ll probably do it anyway.  I usually do.  When the sun is shining like it is right now, I just want to hurry spring along and get those home-grown tomatoes started!   I’ll try, once again, to temper enthusiasm with some common sense and not bring more harm than help to the bees and trees in our care!