Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bad News for Our Apiary

We went down to check on our girls yesterday and were heart broken to see only wasps going in and out of the hives. We opened them enough to look at the feeders, and the feeders were at least half full - with nothing but wasps on them.

So we've managed to lose all of our hives this year. We are so sad. We're also very perplexed. We really did the best we could, but apparently that was not good enough.

We're not giving up. We're going to take some time and learn as much as we can. Next spring we hope to start again. Maybe with only two or three hives. And I'd like to locate the apiary closer to the house so we can keep a better eye on them.

Honey bees are such amazing creatures. I can't imagine being without them for too long. They have added a wonderful dimension to our lives and enriched it with the awe and fascination of watching nature doing what nature does.

I miss our little bees. I hope they didn't die hating us.

Bee Happy,

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Getting a Break

Well, I checked on the girls this afternoon. The really weak hive with all the yellow jacket issues seems to be doing a little better since we screened the bottom entrance and put out some wasp traps. I still saw wasps around the hive, but they seemed to be getting chased out pretty well.

The other two hives look pretty strong right now. They were kicking serious wasp butt - and there weren't near as many wasp as in the past.

I really hope these girls strengthen up a bit. Winter is straight ahead. We'll open all the hives and see how they are doing with the sugar water.

Bee Happy,

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why Does Everything Want to Mess with Our Bees????

Our poor little girls. They work so hard and really only want to be left alone. But every frapping thing seems to want to mess with them. We mess with them, but we are the reason they are here, so I think they accept that. Maybe they don't, but it's not like they really have a choice on that one.

They've battled bears and skunks in the past - and now it's the stinkin' yellow jackets. The yellow jackets are robbing their honey. We put the hive reducers on, and that seemed to help. Two of the hives are doing a great job at keeping the yellow jackets out. But one of the hives is really struggling with it. Yesterday we put a screen over the bottom entrance to force the girls to use the top entrance only. The hope is that with the top opening being so small and everyone using it, it would be easier to defend. I went into the apiary today and darned if that hive still isn't battling those yellow jackets. The other two hives seem to be having no problem.

Alleyooper from Homesteading Today suggested I make some wasp traps to give the girls a little break from all the fighting. So I took four water bottles and made the traps. I filled about 1/4 with water and 1/4 with dish soap. Then I drilled a hole about a half inch from the top that the wasps could get in to. Alleyooper suggested I put jam on the inside of the lid to attract them, but I didn't have jam. I did have some chocolate cake icing though, so I put that in the lid before I screwed it on. The idea is that the icing will attract them to crawl into hole after it. And once they get inside the bottle, they can't get out. So they fall into the soap water and die. I sure hope it works. I am about sick to death of yellow jackets right now. And so are the girls.

I hope we manage to keep these hives alive through the winter. We're going to do everything in our power.

Bee Happy,

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ever Wonder How to Render Wax - or Build a Wax Screen?

Well, you are in luck! I have finally update The Bee Buzz website. I've been meaning to do it for a while, and I finally just made the time and did it! I added two new pages - Rendering Beeswax and Make a Wax Screen. Check them out!

For a good long while after we robbed the hives, we would set the processing equipment outside during the day for the girls to help clean. And clean they did! The honey ladened equipment was pretty much spotless when they finished with it. Each day they would meet us in the front yard, looking for some piece of equipment with a little honey on it. Now that it's all gone, they still come up to the house and beg. It's very unbecoming, and we've told them about it. But we're having a hard time breaking them of it. The little hussies.

We're still upset over losing half our hives. I can't help but feel we really let them down. I can only hope we can take all we've learned this first year and do a much better job next year. That's the goal. It's tempting to open up the hives and check them every day now. But I know that's unreasonable and would probably make our otherwise very tame little honey bees a little pissed at us. I just pray we can get them safely through this winter.

Bee Happy,

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Down Two Hives - Just Like That

We robbed honey last month, and we had five relatively healthy hives. We knew three of them were rather weak, so we didn't rob from them. But we inspected them all, and they seemed fine. The food boxes were filled and we saw no cause for alarm. Just the month before the Dept. of Ag. guy came out and did a thorough hive inspection - everything was fine.

Imagine our surprise and sadness when we went into the apiary to winterize our five hives and found that two of them had died. Dead. No sign of life, other than the honey robbers. We are really in shock and disappointed. I just can't imagine what happened.

Given the apparent short period of time it took for this to occur, Colony Collapse Disorder does pop into our minds. I guess we'll call the Dept. of Ag. this week and let them know what happened. If it is CCD, I suppose the Dept. of Ag. are the people to keep track of it.

We also found mites on a few of the bees in the remaining 3 colonies. Not many - but enough for us to start treating them with Apistan. Additionally we saw little tiny black spots on the porch of each - this is sometimes a tell-tale sign of a type of dysentery that bees can get - and it can be fatal. So we also added Fumagil to their sugar water.

Each of them is being fed now. We put a gallon of 50/50 sugar water in each hive. When it gets colder, we'll up the percentage of cane sugar.

It really breaks my heart that we've lost half our hives this year. Poor little bees. They work their little tails off and every time they turn around something is trying to kill them. We are hoping that next year we can capture a couple of swarms and get the apiary buzzing again with more hives.

I can not describe the joy these girls can bring into your life. Just learning about their fascinating lives is amazing. Watching them and getting to know them is rewarded with entertainment and awe. And I can't even describe the taste of honey taken from your own hives.

It's our first year with bees. We've certainly had our ups and downs. But I wouldn't trade having our hives for anything. And I hope that maybe one or two of you reading this will consider getting hives of your own. There is nothing on earth like it!

Bee Happy,

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Nectar of the gods

Well, we finally robbed honey from our bees. I was a little disappointed at first - we only ended up with two supers of honey. Our hives haven't been very strong this year, so we made sure to leave extra for each of them.

I'll be frank - after processing those two supers, I'm kind of glad we didn't take more. We ended up with 77 pints of honey. That's a lot of processing! We are very please with that. We have plenty for ourselves, and plenty left over to give to our Christmas Victims.

Our girls are so gentle, even robbing honey from them wasn't difficult. They were a little excited at first, but as soon as we moved on to the next hive they calmed right down. I almost felt guilty about robbing them of so much work. Until I tasted it..... wow! I put some in my coffee this morning and it was so sweet I used half as much as I do of sugar. And what a flavor. I know it sounds weird, but our honey tastes like our bee hives smell. You could blind fold me and have me sample 1000 different honeys and I swear I could pick out ours. It is, quite simply, the best honey I've ever tasted.

After we robbed the honey, I used the de-capper and removed the honey capping. The honey extractor only handles four frames at one time, so I would de-cap four of them:

Then Bernie loaded each frame into the honey extractor and spun out all the honey:

We used a panty hose to filter the honey before we put it in our pint containers. It was a little tricky switching from a full one to an empty one:

And now we have honey!

Trust me when I tell you this is all a little condensed. It took us many hours to end up with 77 pints. The above picture was taken around midnight. But it was worth every minute.

After we were finished, we put all the honey ladened equipment outside for the girls to clean up. They have been swarming around it all day and have done a fine job. They put a fine dent in all the honey that covered the equipment. They should have it all spic and span in the next couple of days.

Processing honey is a lot of work, but very rewarding. Not only do I love looking at all the beautiful bottles of honey, I love eating it!

Those precious little girls worked their little wings off to provide us with such a wonderful, beneficial food. How can you not love these little creatures? Just makes me want to kiss the wings right off of them!

By the way, Bernie has decided to name his apiary Penny Lane Apiary. I suggested a lot of clever names, but he told me it was never a question what his apiary would be named. If you are familiar with the Back to Basic Living website, you know where this comes from. He named our lane and he named his apiary. Is he not just adorable?

Bee happy,

Sunday, August 19, 2007

We Love You, But Please Leave Us Alone

Our little girls were very happy this weekend. They were buzzing around and bringing in lots of pollen. Which is really quite amazing, seeing that we are in the middle of a drought. But thank the heavens for weeds. Thistle and Golden Rod are in full bloom right now. And that makes our girls very happy indeed.

We had discussed opening the hives again this weekend to see where everyone is. But we decided against it. We worry about stressing the hives and I can't imagine a better way than to smoke them and pull apart their frames every weekend. So we agreed to give them a little break. We'll check on them next weekend. Even our week hive is looking strong and happy. We filled a gallon jug of sugar water and fed them last weekend, so they should be fine until next weekend. We even saw a few coming in with pollen baskets full.

I've been rendering some bees wax using a method that Bob the Bee Expert told us about. I'm taking pictures of the entire process. When I finish I will put up a page on rendering bees wax on The Bee Buzz website - complete with pictures and step by step directions. When I first began rendering wax, I tried every method imaginable. This method is the simplest way I've found. And I'm happy to share it.

We had a really nice time on the homestead this weekend. You can read about it on the Back to Basic Living blog.

So that's it for now - we're happy and the girls are happy. How can it get any better?

Bee Happy,