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,