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,

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Our Welfare Case

Well, the good news is that our weakest little hive is bustling with activity. We opened it today and examined the brood box. It's full of bees and plenty of brood. We were very pleasantly surprised. They've come a long way. The bad news is they still need to build up their food stores. So we won't be robbing any honey from that little puppy, and it will be our welfare case this year. We filled the food box with drawn out frames in the hopes that they'll start making some honey and then added a feeder box on top and put the jug of sugar water up there for them. We'll feed them heavy until next spring and hopefully they'll rebound. They sure were cute today - all busy buzzing about and bringing in plenty of pollen in their little pollen baskets. They are just too darn adorable.

The other four hives are doing really well. We're going to give them a couple more weeks and rob honey from them. They have plenty. One hive has three supers on it - and the last one is just about full. Good girls!

We also put up the "Critter Gitter" we got from Mann Lake to scare off varmints that come with range of the apiary. This thing is pretty cool - it's a motion sensor that flashes lights and lets out a shrill noise when it detects something within range. We bought two, but one isn't functioning property so I'm sending it back. We mounted the one that is working and I tested it be walking up right into it's 90 degree range about 30 feet away. It detected me before I made it to the fence. I also crouched down like a bear and it nailed me pretty quickly. I stopped short of trying to imitate a skunk.

I believe, through trial and error, that I have finally figured out the most efficient way to render wax. I'm still working on documenting it with pictures, but I'll soon have a page, complete with pictures and instructions, on the Bee Buzz Website. Today Bernie built me a really great screen to syphon out the trash as I render the wax. I'll also include directions on making that. It took less than $5 and 45 minutes - and that time included dragging out and putting away all the tools. Bernie rocks. He really does.

Bernie also has plans to build me a Solar Beeswax Melter. THAT will be nice! I'll put directions up for that too. You'll definitely want to know how to do this. Did I mention that Bernie rocks?

I guess that's about it for the bee news. We have other news, and it's kind of related to the bees because it means they'll be seeing a lot more of us in the future. You can read about it on the Back to Basic Living Blog.

Bee Happy,

Sunday, August 5, 2007

You Bears are Plucking at My Very Last Nerve

My last blog entry had pictures and details of the damage bears have caused to our hive equipment, and as I wrote about on the BackToBasicLiving blog last night, we found that something large and annoying had tried to get into the apiary. The electric fence was in pretty poor shape - but it did survive and apparently keep the unwelcomed guest out. I'm certain it was a bear. We had a lot of repair work to do this morning on that fence and I went to bed last night worrying about it.

At about 4:30 this morning, Bernie and I were startled out of our sleep by a very loud "thump". We immediately knew it was a bear. Bernie and I quickly flew out of bed and grabbed flashlights and a shotgun. We staggered out of the house, half awake and looking like insane asylum escapees, and immediately saw that the stack of bee hive supers was again strewn about. Bernie walked into the backyard and said "Oh, man." I screamed "WHAT????" He said "He got into the grill and knocked it over." About then we heard loud scurrying through the woods. I screamed "SHOOT HIM! SHOOT HIM!" Bernie calmly explained it was pitch-black-freaking-dark and he couldn't see a thing. Soon we heard nothing at all. But we were both uneasy. The bear was heading toward the apiary.

I held the flashlight and Bernie quickly cleaned up the mess the bear left for us. Then we got into our little Trail Blazer and headed down to the apiary. All was calm. We sat there a while, and nothing happened, so we headed back to the house. Bernie couldn't get back to sleep, so he got up to watch CNN. I managed to doze a while longer and dreamed about bears the whole time. When I got up we went down to the apiary and fixed the electric fence. Then we put the stack of supers and all hive equipment into the sea container and locked it up. It would be nice if we could have left it out a while to make sure all the wax moths were dead and given the girls a chance to clean out any extra honey left over, but those darn bears spoiled all of that for everyone. I was sure to let the bees know exactly what happened.

On the lighter side, we checked out the weak hive today and found they had managed to slurp up 1/2 gallon of sugar water. We topped off the gallon jug and put it back in there for them. We checked on another hive to see if it was ready for another super, but they had only managed to cap off one frame with honey. But we did see them flying in with lots of pollen in their pollen baskets, so I guess we'll give them a little time and check again.

Those bears are really at the top of my list right now. I've never hunted bear, but I am going to do a little research on the best method. Next hunting season I'm planning on having a nice bear skin rug in front of the fireplace. And I plan to be eating on some nice bear stew while I lay on it.

Bee Happy,

Friday, August 3, 2007

Hey Hey, Boo-Boo - This is Better Than a Pick-a-nik Basket

Well, last weekend we took apart the hive that we lost and stacked it with some other spare hive parts in the back yard. We staggered between each super and brood box so that they would get sun and hopefully foil the plans of any wax moths that hoped to move in. Well, I think we accomplished that - but we also allowed the wonderful aroma of honey to fill the area and that was, apparently, taken as an invitation for our bear to come check it out and hunt for some honey. This is what we were faced with when we arrived:
The bear only tore apart two of the stacks we had put up - but he did a fine job of that. Many of the frames have been chewed upon. There were even a couple of frames he toted off a ways to enjoy in an area that apparently offered more ambiance:

Based on the huge section missing in the middle, this one must have been especially tasty:

Here's a little upclose picture of some damage the bear inflicted on the front of this brood box:

Our hives are about 1/4 mile from where we had these hive boxes stacked, but the girls were all over these frames when we got there. There were several dozen cleaning up any residual honey the bear left. I swear, those little girls are definitely busy little bees.

We fenced up and added electric fencing to the apiary. I'm not sure how we're going to handle keeping bears out of the area we have extra hive boxes. We'll come up with something. I understand that it's hard to blame the bears for being interested in that wonderful honey. I just hope they understand that we shouldn't be blamed for wanting to see them laying in front of our fireplace.

Bee Free!


Monday, July 30, 2007

There is Hope Yet

Well, Bob from the Department of Agriculture came out for hive inspections today. We knew we had one dead hive, and Bob verified that for us. He also helped us take apart our weak hive and come up with a plan to get it rocking again.

Here's a picture of Bob when he first showed up. Does he not look darn happy to be here?

Bob got busy right away on our "weak" hive. Notice how Bob doesn't wear gloves, a suit, or a veil? Bob really rocks. But Bob has been doing this a while. We have not. We still look like we are practicing for a space walk when we enter the apiary. And we will probably continue to look like that until we have 100 years experience like Bob does. Rock on Bob!

We quickly located the queen in our weak hive. Bob is pointing the hive tool at her in this picture. Look exactly below the tip of his hive tool and you will see her long body.

Here's another picture of her. Look in the lower right corner. Isn't she beautiful?

So the bottom line is that our weak hive is doing OK. We just need to feed it. So we put a gallon jug of sugar water in that hive to help it along.

The remaining four hives are really bumping right now. We'll be robbing honey from them in the next couple of weeks.

All in all, it wasn't the worst of news. In fact, it was pretty good news. We lost a hive and that's not cool. We'll know what to look for next spring. We have a better than average chance of saving a weak hive, and we'll definitely be robbing honey from the other four!

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Bee Happy,

Saturday, July 28, 2007

One Hive Down - But We've Got Beeswax!

Well, we arrived on the homestead this weekend to face a dreaded reality. We have lost one of our beehives. We've been figuring as much, but really refused to face up to it. I suppose if we knew what we are doing, we would have gotten a queen earlier and tried to save the hive. But we really are winging this right now and we had hoped the hive could hold up until we got Bob from the Department of Agriculture got out here with queens again, but I'm afraid we waited just a little too long. Bob will be here Monday. But he'll help us deal with five hives instead of six.

On the upside, I do believe we will have honey this year afterall. We have four really rocking hives, and one that's appears to be doing ok. I guess we'll know for sure after Bob gets here on Monday and helps us go through each hive.

It troubles us a little that we found honey robbers trying to gain access to two of the hives. I put some pictures up on The Bee Buzz website. It really is awesome to watch these girls doing what comes naturally - but it is hard to not rescue the poor victim. Instead, I got pictures. Check them out!

Bernie and I have been collecting Bur Comb as we inspect the hives, and we cleaned up a few old hives that John gave us when we bought this operation. As a result, we had a fair amount of comb. As I mentioned in my last post, I rendered some wax from it over the past two weeks. It wasn't as easy as I read about, but it wasn't all that hard either. It just took some time and patience. I thought I'd tell you how I did it. As a side note I would say that I really think there has to be an easier way. If you know of one, please help a sister out!

I put a bunch of comb in a large stock pot (16 quarts) and covered it with water - and then another 2 inches or so.

Then I brought the whole ugly mixture to a boil. I boiled it for about 2 hours and then removed it from the heat. This is what I was left with:

I let that cool overnight and the next morning I could see the beeswax had hardened!

Then I took that lovely beeswax layer off (it was only about and inch thick) and was left with a bunch of goo in the bottom of the pot. I took that outside and disposed of it.

I don't have pictures of the remaining steps, but I will post some the next time. Next I took that layer of beeswax with all the trash in it and put it in a pot. I put the heat on medium low and stirred it until all the was was melted. Then I put a piece of an old cotton shirt over a bowl and poured the beeswax mixture into it. I let it filter through the shirt for a while, and then put on some rubber gloves and squeezed the balled up shirt to get as much was as possible out of it. As you can imagine, some trash made it through when I squeezed, so now I need to melt it all down again and filter it one more time.

As I said, rendering wax is a bit time consuming, but it is really rewarding! I made some more lip balm tonight with it and I am just tickled!

I'll be sure to get more pictures of the whole process next time. And I'll let y'all know how Monday goes when Bob shows up.

Bee Happy!


Monday, July 16, 2007

No Wonder Beeswax Costs So Much!

My niece and great-niece came to visit this weekend and we had a really nice time. We checked on the bees and everyone seems to be doing well. Even the weak hive seems a little busier with activity.

We focused on visiting with family this weekend, but I did manage to render beeswax from all the comb we've been collecting. I'll post pictures of the whole event later, but suffice it to say it was a lot more involved than I bargained for! It's not a hateful job or anything like that, it just takes time - and the process seems to be multi-stepped. Maybe I'm doing something wrong. If you know an easy way to accomplish this (other than the solar method - we have plans to work on that) let me know!

We did see a bear in the yard this weekend. I wrote about it on the BackToBasicLiving blog. At the time he was making a little bee-line down to the apiary and it worried us a bit. But we checked the hives several times in the next couple of days and he must have detoured - or decided not to mess with the electric fence.

So our girls are safe and sound and staying quite busy trying to find some pollen and nectar during this dry time of the year.

Bee Happy!

Friday, July 6, 2007

Render Me Amazed!

Not much to report on the girls lately. They have been busy collecting pollen and nectar and we've been busy leaving them alone. One of our weak hives really seems to be coming back, but one of them still isn't doing so well. Bob W. from the Department of Agriculture felt we don't have a queen in that hive, and he'll be coming out again in the next couple of weeks so we can check again. Hopefully he'll be able to bring a queen with him - just in case.

Today we rendered beeswax for the first time. I guess I really had no clue what to expect. I figured we'd throw all the bur comb and hive wax that we've collected into a pot on the stove and it would melt into beautiful beeswax that I could use to make candles and other things. Well, I was wrong! There's a lot of other stuff in there that isn't purely beeswax - way more than I would have expected.

I'm certain there are about a million ways to render beeswax because I've read most of them. I decided on a method that involved putting a bunch of wax in a piece of burlap bag, tieing it off, and then sinking it a large pot of very hot water and weighing it down with a rock. Well, that method turned out really sucking. We let the hot water stay on the stove at a near boil for about an hour and all it made was a mess. There was certainly beeswax floating on top, but man was it ever taking forever. I have no patience, so we scrapped that idea.

Bernie suggest using 2 of my old pots and making a double boiler to melt the wax. I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea! I don't have an official double boiler, so I decided his idea was as close as we would get and would likely even work. So that's what we did. We filled the larger pot with water, and then put the smaller pot on top of that one so the it floated a little on the water. Then we filled the smaller pot with wax and as the water in the bottom pot started to boil good, the wax in the top pot started to melt!

But it doesn't really melt - most of it was just black goo in the end, and a small amount of wax was on the bottom. So I kept feeding it wax until I thought it looked soupy enough to contain a cup or so of wax. Then we covered a pot with a piece of tshirt I cut up and strained the concoction through it. It actually ended up to be golden yellow wax! Wow - we were impressed! We were also really surprised of all the black goo left behind.

A couple of lessons learned:

1) Only use pots, pans, utensils you are willing to dedicate to nothing but rendering wax. You can not get all that stuff off your kitchenware once you get started.
2) Save old 1/2 gallon orange juice cartons and 1/2 milk cartons to put wax into. It gets really hard, really fast and it's difficult to get out of a pot, to say the least.
3) Rendering wax is a messy job - but it sure is rewarding.

So today was a learning experience, and we learned a lot! Tomorrow I'm making lip balm from the beeswax - which was why I needed to render some beeswax tonight in the first place. I'll let y'all know how that turns out.

Bee Happy,

Friday, June 22, 2007

1000 Mile Checkup

I apologize for the delay in posting. You may remember in my last post that we had opened the hives for the first time and my friend, Iddee, had suggested we do a full hive inspection because he had concerns about one of the hives. Well we did that - and we had some serious concerns about a couple of the hives. We couldn't find the queen and it was looking like there was little or no brood. Not good.

I got pretty depressed about that. I know it sounds silly. We have six hives and four of them are doing pretty darn good, but I feel responsible for these girls and two questionable hives means we've done a pretty bad job at caring for them. I really couldn' t bring myself to post about it.

Out of desperation I called the Virginia Department of Agriculture (VDAC). I was hooked up with Bob W. (I know how to say his last name, but have no idea how to spell it). Bob was really cool. I told him of our concerns and he volunteered to come out and do hive inspections with us and help us figure out what's going on. So we set a date of two Mondays ago for Bob to come on out. As it turned out, my parents were here for a week long visit. That was cool. They seemed to enjoy sharing this experience with us.

I've got to tell you, I am really thankful for Bob. I was so worried before he showed up. But once he got here he was so calm and reassuring that I almost fell asleep. He talked to us for a bit while he started his smoker and then grabbed his veil and said "Let's take a look."

Bernie and I suited up and got my mom all set in a veil so she could go in with us. The three of us went into the apiary looking like we were ready for a deep space moon walk. Bob entered the apiary, threw his veil on the ground, rolled up his sleeves and began breaking down all of the hives. He was fearless and never got stung even one time - even though he picked up handful of bees with his bear hands to show my mother the difference in worker bees and drones. Bob rules.

Here's the skinny on how we ended up - we have one hive that has a drone layer and doesn't appear to have a queen at all. We have one hive that has a queen and some brood, but is very weak. We removed the super and left it with only the brood and food boxes. We have one hive that is really rocking and we added another super to that one. The other three have all swarmed and are doing ok, but need to get stronger. They each have one super on them.

My mom was there for each hive inspection and really did just great with all the girls swarming around her. I was really proud of her and snapped a picture to put on the website. Dad watched the whole thing from a distance and wasn't too interested in an up close and personal view.

Bob was really great and took a lot of time explaining what we are dealing with and offering some suggestions. I was so excited to get pictures of the bees and queen that I never even thought to get a picture of Bob! But not to worry. He agreed to come out again in a month and bring a queen for our queenless hive. I'll be sure to get some pictures then.

So that's where we are right now. It's not great news, but it's not horrible news either.

I'll update the website with some pictures - there is one of a queen that is pretty cool. Check them out!

Bee happy,

Monday, May 28, 2007

Excuse Us - We Could Use a Little Personal Space in Here!

We headed out to the homestead for the long Memorial Day Weekend excited to have an extra day to spend there, and anxious about finally doing hive inspections. We have been trying to coordinate schedules with John, the guy we bought the hives from, for over a month now with no success. We finally decided that this is the weekend we will just do it. The weather prediction was perfect and the hives were over due for inspection. Done deal.

Darn good thing we had a mind set of inspecting hives because as we pulled up to the apiary we could clearly see that one hive had bees globbed all over the front of it. We know that bees will do this when they are hot, but it remained in the lower 80s each day of this long weekend, dipping to around 60 each night, but the bees never left the front of the hive - and this was the only hive that was doing this. A quick check with Iddee (a friend from the Bee Forum on Homesteading Today) confirmed that we probably had a little problem. The hive was over crowded, which made sense because this is our most active hive - and it is really active!

We had company over the weekend, so we decided to head down first thing this morning (Memorial Day) and get six supers ready to put on top of each of the hives. Now that the nectar is flowing, they'll need the supers to start making honey. This will also make some room and get those girls busy that have been hanging out on the front of our active hive.

You may recall that when Bernie first got these six hives I was terrified of the bees. And when I say terrified I don't mean I was kind of afraid of them. I mean I was abso-freaking-lutely T-E-R-R-I-F-I-E-D of them. I never thought in a million years that I would get within a 100 feet of them, much less snap close up pictures and become completely enamoured with them. But these little girls quickly won my heart and I find myself hopelessly fascinated with their every movement.

So I found myself somewhat excited to open up the hives and take a look inside. That was, of course, until I realized that one of those hives had several hundred if not thousand hanging out right in plain view on the front of the hive. I became very much less enthusiastic as that reality sunk in. And as I stood there suiting up in my veil, gloves, and jacket worrying about it, Bernie bounded across the yard and picked that very hive to be the first that we would tackle. Well joy of joys. I thought I would puke.

I quickly grabbed my smoker and my camera and headed over to give him a hand. Am I a good wife or what??? My heart was hammering in my chest as I watched him puff some smoke on the globs. The bees reacted a little differently than I expected. I thought it would somehow soothe them, but it really seemed to piss them off. They began buzzing loudly - but they stopped moving around and seemed to calm right down in short order. I helped Bernie pry open the lid that was sealed with propolis and then pry off the feeder box. Next we pried off the top hive entrance. Between each step, we puffed a little smoke at the bees. Once the top hive entrance was off, we could see that the entire feed box was filled with bees. The frames were full of honey. We reassembled the hive and added a super. The lazy bees globbed on the front of the hive now have frames they need to draw out and fill with honey. That should occupy them for a while.

We repeated this process on each of the remaining six hives. Each one got easier and easier for us. By the time we got to the last two hives, we didn't even use smoke to open them up and I didn't even help Bernie. I finally got a few pictures! I was so excited helping Bernie and then watching that I didn't get as many pictures as I had hoped - and I got none of the frames that he removed. But I did get some good ones of the process, so check them out. They are the last 13 or so pictures on this page.

Next weekend we'll do a complete inspection of the weakest hive. Iddee wants us to locate the queen and any queen cells and remove the super so they can focus on the brood for now. I'll be sure to get lots of pictures.

In two or three weeks we'll open up all the hives again to see the progress on honey and whether or not we need to add additional supers. I'll be sure to get pictures of that too. Be sure to check back with us!

Bee Happy,

Sunday, May 20, 2007

No Skunks Allowed or Tolerated!

You may recall in my last post I mentioned we had a skunk that was feeding on our two weakest hives. We had enclosed the apiary in electric fence to ward off bears, but we had not considered that some freaking skunk would take an interest in eating our bees.

Last weekend we constructed a fence out of chicken wire to keep the skunks out. We installed three foot chicken wire around the apiary and folded the bottom one foot of it so that it lays on the ground and we nailed it firmly in place with large staples. I put some pictures of it up on the website.

I got a new camera that takes some awesome pictures and I took a few of the girls busy around the hives. You can check them out on the website too. I got pictures of the guard bees warding off honey robbers, the guards greeting the foragers, the girls fanning the hive entrance to regulate the temperature, a drone, girls with over loaded pollen baskets and several others. I swear I could sit and watch these girls all day long. They are simply fascinating. I took over 75 pictures (although only a few were posted to the website) and got particularly close to each hive. The girls tolerated me quite well. Only one time, after several minutes of being quite close to the hive, did a few of the girls head butt my hands several times. I decided they had enough of me and moved on to the next hive.

I also took some pictures of the homestead and some pictures of the wildlife and flowers on our property. Check them out!

Next weekend is Memorial Day weekend and we'll be on the homestead for the long weekend for the long weekend. I'll be sure to post some pictures!

Bee Happy,


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Cinco de Mayo and Scat

Happy Cinco de Mayo. We celebrated this day the same as we celebrate every weekend day - working on our homestead. I'm not really even sure what Cindo de Mayo is all about. But I do know we're not Mexican, so we don't observe it. What we did observe today was skunk scat - and right in front of two of our beehives. Our weakest bee hives. This is not cool. I put pictures on our website. Skunks like to eat bees. And they bait them by scratching on the front of the hives to alert the guards stationed at the front of the hives. As the girls march out on the porch to check out the threat, the skunk eats them, putting up with a few stings to enjoy the meal.

Tomorrow we'll string some electric wire low to the ground in the hopes of deterring the skunks. If that doesn't work, we'll have to come up with Plan B.

We mowed the yard today, and Bernie used the weed wacker around the hives. He noticed that the girls were returning to the hives laden with pollen. We got some pictures of a couple of the girls with pollen filled legs and put them on the website. Look closely and you'll notice the ones with pollen - they have thick yellow back legs, full of pollen. It was really cool to watch them. Several of the girls would aim short of their porch and end up falling in the grass in front of it. That pollen must really weigh alot! They would crawl to a high blade of grass and then launch themselves toward the porch. They would barely make it, and crawl inside. It was really amazing to watch and we stood there for quite a while enjoying the sight. Check it out.

Tomorrow we'll sting more electric wire to keep the skunks out. We're out of town next weekend, so it will be a couple of weeks before we know if it works. I'll be worried about the girls the whole time.

Bee Happy,

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Feasting After the Winter Fast

Today we had hoped to do our first hive inspection. Our friend that sold us our apiary was supposed to come down to step us through it. But the weather has not cooperated. Today it only reached about 60 degrees. None the less, the girls were quite active. Very active, in fact.

With all the rain of the past couple of weeks, the grass has really grown so we decided to spend the morning mowing and weed eating. We cleaned up around the apiary, and when we turned off the mower and weed eater we noticed a very loud buzzing. We looked over at the apiary and saw a line of black. The bees had a flight path going and the workers were very busy gathering pollen from the dogwood and redbud trees that are in full bloom. We walked down to the flight path and stood on the edge of it and watch for quite a while. It was really awesome. We have six hives - and each hive has at the very least about 10,000 bees. And most of them were out collecting pollen. It was really a sight to behold.

I didn't have my camera with me, so I didn't get a picture. We went back down later in the afternoon, and while they were not quite so active, they were still out and about. We got a few pictures and I put a couple up on The Bee Buzz website.

The fact that our girls are so busy is a good sign. There must be plenty of little babies to feed for them to be so interested in gathering pollen. Hopefully it will be warm enough next weekend to inspect the hives. I am hoping to locate the queen in at least one of the hives. I'll be sure to take some pictures.

Bee happy!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Our Bees Rock!

The weather last week was just brutal. We had several inches of rain followed by two full days of very strong winds and below normal temps. We worried all week about the bees and the homestead. But when we arrived Friday night, the bees were just fine. They are really a hardy bunch. I am so proud of them I could burst. Unfortunately, the homestead didn't fair quite as well and suffered more uprooted trees than we could count. If you are interested, check out the Back To Basic Living website for some pictures.

Saturday was gorgeous with temperatures in the 80s. We spent almost the entire day clearing out fallen trees, but we did go down to check on the girls and they were just a flurry of activity. We could hear them buzzing about the apiary before we could even see it. We noticed that there were so many bees flying in and out of the hives that they were having some trouble getting through the hive reducers. The reducers are put on for the winter to help keep the hives warm and block some of the wind. We've hesitated removing them this spring because the weather has been so crazy and it's much colder than usual. Well, we decided that since it doesn't look like we'll be going down to freezing temps again, we would go ahead and remove them. I put some pictures of the process up on the website. I also included a few close up pictures of some of the girls. They really show a lot of patience with me chasing them around with a camera - but they do occasionally get annoyed, and they are pretty quick to let me know. Check it out.

The only straps we had when we got the bees home were motorcycle tie downs. They certainly did the job, but we actually like to use those tie downs on motorcycles, so I ordered some hive tie straps from a bee supply catalog. Next weekend we'll replace the tie downs with the straps.

Bee Happy!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Poor bees. It's been raining since before noon yesterday. It rained all night and it's still raining. Apparently the whole East Coast is getting this weather, but that doesn't make the bees any happier about it. They are snuggled up pretty tightly this weekend in an attempt to stay warm and dry.

Hopefully it will dry out and warm up this week. I'd like to get some more up close pictures of the girls to put on the website.

Bee Happy,

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Too Cold to do Anything but Clean House

After weather in the 80s last week, we were hit with a blast of cold air and have been in the 20s the past couple of nights. I walked down to check on the apiary around 1PM and the girls were complaining bitterly about the cold. But, the industrious gals that they are, they were busy cleaning house. I put a picture up on the website of one of the busier hives. Check it out.

I split open several plums and spread them around the hives. Seems so much is in bloom everywhere except here on our property. We are usually a week or so behind much of the area, so we should have some Red Bud trees, Dogwoods, spring bulbs, etc. blooming pretty soon. In the meantime, I hope the girls like the plums.

I also put a Colony Collapse Disorder article up on the website. This phenomenon is really pretty widespread across the US, and it's extremely worrisome. To my knowledge, it has not yet been reported in Virginia, but it has been reported in all the states that surround us. If the cause is not found, I'm afraid the honey bee population may not recover. Check out Cyberbee (click on the CCD link) for more information on Colony Collapse Disorder.

In a few weeks our friend John (the guy that sold us the 6 hives) will be coming down to walk us through the spring inspection. I'm really looking forward to that. I'll be sure to get some pictures up of the experience.

Bee Happy,


Friday, March 23, 2007

Nice to Bee Warm in March

What a gorgeous day for the one of the last few days of March. We've had our share of snow the past few weeks and the girls have been pouting inside the hives. But they were sure out and about today as the temps warmed up to near 70 degrees.

I put some pictures up on the website. Check them out!

All six hives were really buzzing with activity today. The Colony Collapse Disorder all over the news lately has really made us anxious as we check the hives each weekend, and we are always thrilled to either see them flying about on nice days, or hear them in their hives on colder ones. Today it was a joy to see so much activity.

We sliced up about 6 oranges and put them around the hives so the girls will find some food while it's so warm and so few flowers are blooming. They will hopefully show us their appreciation by making lots of honey for us this year.

Be sure to check out the pictures of our girls. They are so darn cute you can't help but to love them!

Bee Happy!