Wild Things Farm

  (Crab Orchard, Tennessee)
Farm life adventures of the Happy Hoer
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Combining the hives

So, I started out this year with three hives.  I painstakingly woodburned the names "Virgo", "Taurus", and "Aquarius" on the fronts of the hives so the bees would know which one to go into--well, maybe not for them, but for me.

I'm a Virgo, my boyfriend is a Taurus, and I just like the name Aquarius.  I always start singing that song......

Back to the story.  I believe the last time I reported on the hives there was no queen in one of them and it's kind of late in the season to introduce a new queen, so I was advised by fellow beekeepers to combine the two hives.  To combine a hive you take the top and inner cover off the queenright hive, place a sheet of newspaper over the top box, then set the queenless hive on top.  The bees eat through the paper to get out and then they come back to the same hive.  It gives the bottom hive more workers to do bee things like collect pollen and nectar, drag out dead bees, and so forth.

They really do eat the paper, see?

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I'll have to watch for little black and white bee poops around the yard.

So, what's the name of this hive?  I'm calling it Virtaurius.

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The honeymoon is over

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This has been a roller coaster year both for gardening AND beekeeping.  Of all the years I could have started beekeeping, I picked "the worst beekeeping year" (according to several fellow beekeepers) in a long time to begin.  By July we had just short of 9 inches of our average yearly rainfall.  This translates into rotting crops, washed out nectar and pollen, and wet bees.

The excitement began last summer, attending meetings, wondering what the heck everyone was talking about in "bee lingo", then last winter building the hives was fun, and waiting on the bees to arrive--like an expectant mother!

Three packages arrived, one absconded (that's one of those beekeeping terms that means "they got the h**** out of here";) on the third day of their residence.  Okay, I have two hives.  Sometime in July one of them swarmed.  Everything I read said that bees don't swarm their first year......I DIDN'T READ THE BOOK TO THE BEES---darn!

When I realized that one hive had swarmed I looked at the other hive and they had no queen, no brood, no eggs.  A couple of weeks later the hive that swarmed had eggs and brood and obviously a queen that I didn't see, but the other hive was still egg-brood-and queenless.

Advice from several veteran beekeepers was to combine the hives since it's so late in the year.  Take off the cover and inner lid of the queen-right colony, put a sheet of newspaper over the top (no bad news please) and place the queenless hive on top.  Supposedly the bees will eat their way through the newspaper, walk through the hive and fly out the front entrance and come back in the same way.

We'll see.  After feeding them all summer, getting stung about 20 or so times, and I haven't even added up how much money I've spent, I think I should have adopted a kid instead.

P.S.  Whatever a beekeeper wants to charge for his honey, don't complain :-)

 
 

Installing the packages of bees in the new hives

Crab Orchard, Tennessee--You know how it is when you're anticipating something--for months--maybe years.  Not years in this case, but I've been studying and learning all I can about keeping honey bees since last summer.  I spent all winter building 3 hives and obsessing over which "way" to keep bees.  Natural beekeeping caught my eye, but the Warre-style hive was just too different than hives that will accept traditional frames, so I opted for foundationless frames in a Langstrongth 8-frame medium with a quilt to absorb moisture during cold weather--I've detailed the construction in earlier posts.

I did get a bottle of Honey-B-healthy to mix with the sugar water I was feeding the bees.  At Thursday's beekeeper meeting several members were really praising the product and said that the bees really seemed to like it.  Since I have brand new hives and no drawn foundation for the bees, I put beeswax on the starter strips in the frames and sprayed the entire inside of the hive box with the sugar syrup/Honey-B-Healthy solution.  I hope it works to help them decide to call the box their home.

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I've made sugar syrup for hummingbirds before, but it's like 1 part sugar to 4 parts water.  This syrup was 1 part sugar to 1 part water.  I have a lot of syrup :-)  Keeping it in the fridge.

I had read about something called a "swarm guard" that is placed over the entrance to keep bees from swarming; especially when introducing them to a new hive, so I built three of them.  Once I figured out that I was going to have to use a Boardman feeder at the entrance, the swarm guards had to come off--I'd still like to come up with something really quick to keep them from absconding once they get the queen free from her cage.  I've read that it doesn't happen often, but it can happen, and I've got about $350 in 3 boxes of insects that have wings-----!!!!

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Yesterday was finally the day.  The USPS sent an e-mail notification that 3 packages were in the mail on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning I got a call from the Knoxville post office (about 70 miles away) telling me that my bees were there if I was going to "be in the neighborhood" I could pick them up and if not, they'd be in Crab Orchard on Saturday morning.  I opted to wait since I knew the bees had sugar syrup to eat and a queen to keep them occupied.

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It started raining about 3 am Saturday morning and a brisk wind was blowing along with the rain when I picked up the bees.  They were put in the shop where I'd go look at them every couple of hours and come back to the computer and "Google" how to install bees in the rain :-)  The forecast was for solid rain for two days and then my schedule would not allow installing them for another day so I was looking for a window in the rain.  It happened about 6:00 pm Saturday evening.

I wasn't able to get pictures of the actual installation, but I might be able to provide a visual for you:

First off, I will say that I detest the leather gloves and will get rubber gloves before I go back into the hive.  When I removed the square piece of wood that covers the syrup can I COULD NOT get a hold of the syrup can and actually dropped the queen cage down into the package of bees--arrgghhhhh!  I retrieved it, saw the queen crawling around in there and tried to wedge the cage between two frames the way I've seen on all the videos I've watched.   That doesn't work very well.  The queen fell to the bottom of the box (again).  Next time I need a thumbtack to attach the strap to a frame so she can safely dangle.    (You can see the white strap that's attached to the queen cage in the center box extending past the cardboard syrup can cover).  I finally took the nylon strap attached to her cage and wedged it between two end bars.

I was using the "no shake" method of putting the package box inside the hive and just letting the bees crawl out.  I put the package in and tilted it on its side with the opening towards the dangling queen and put the top back on.

Now I was nervous--I didn't think that went too well.  So, I got the second package, some thumbtacks, and opened up the next hive to install the bees.  I hate those gloves!  Had trouble getting the can out again, and yes, I dropped the second queen down into the package of bees AGAIN!  Next time I'm not going to take the staple out of the strap holding the queen cage in place until after I get the clumsy syrup can out of the very tight-fitting hole.  I decided to ditch the thumbtack idea and to just lay the queen cage next to the opened package on this one, so that's what I did.

The third one went a little easier.  I didn't drop the queen cage, no bees flew out, and it didn't rain throughout the entire fiasco.

What did I learn during this first beekeeping experience?

  • I need to make sure my hair is pulled back so it doesn't get tangled up in the zipper of the veil,
  • Did I mention I hate the leather gloves?
  • Make sure there are no bees on you when you take off your suit--I did get stung on the chest by a stray bee after I was back in the shop

After I came back into the house I started second-guessing myself and wondering if I had turned the second queen cage upside down so she couldn't be fed, so this morning I peeked and there was a huge wad of bees on the area where the queen cage was placed, so I left it alone.  There were also several bees still in the package so I didn't remove it either.  I didn't think it would be a good idea to get the bees flying around in this crappy weather.

Oh yes, we had fierce thunderstorms during the night with lots of wind.  The first thing I did this morning was make sure none of the hives had blown over, and they were all still in place.

Now I wait.....let me see, 4 days from Thursday means that tomorrow evening I'll check to see if the packages are pretty empty so I can remove them AND it's supposed to be better weather by then--let's keep our fingers crossed that the bees are forgiving of a "newbee-keeper"!

 
 

First Time in a Bee Yard

As a newbee member of the Cumberland County Beekeepers Association, I've been assigned a mentor.  I've read about 3 books, countless older copies of The American Bee Journal and Bee Culture, looked through every beekeeping catalog made, been to a conference, built hives, got all the equipment needed, but today I got to actually go into beehives for real!  I was humming that song "I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it, I know, I know...." anyway, the day was beautiful and warm for this time of year.  My mentor has hives off the mountain (the Cumberland Plateau) so she thought it would be warmer to work those hives today.

I gathered up all my brand new bee stuff, most of it still in the plastic packages, loaded them in my Subaru Veggie-soon-to-become a Veggie/Bee Wagon, and headed to her house.  She has a Subaru beewagon with a bee-trailer behind it and it was loaded with supers, frames, sugar syrup, bottom boards--more beekeeping equipment than I'd ever seen!  She made sure I had everything I needed and all I have is a jacket so she was going to loan me a pair of white pants to slip on over my jeans.  We went into the building where she keeps all her bee stuff and got distracted talking and left without getting the white pants---haha!

On the way to the bee yard we came upon a yard sale.......the bees can wait!

PENTAX ImageWe each got a few things and went on to the bee yard.

The first thing we did once we got there was to light our smokers.  I've never lit a smoker and I even commented to her that mine came with paper to light it the first time--it was the instructions on how to light it!  I stuffed paper egg carton in my shiny new smoker and lit it.  After stuffing a few pine needles and cones in it I had a pretty good fire going.  I'm used to building a fire in a wood stove, not a coffee can.  Although I got a fire going pretty quick and it was doing really well, in the end hers kept smoking the entire time, about 2 hours, and mine went out.  I need practice.

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She has nine hives at this farm and was doing the first actual hands on visit for the season.   We could see from a distance that 2 of the hives weren't as busy as the others and she said she knew that one of them hadn't survived the winter.  We started opening hives, checking for brood, and changing out the bottom boards for ones that she had cleaned up and painted.  I got to see lots of things I've never seen before....

PENTAX ImageI've seen pictures of the "baggy" feeders, but have never seen them in person.  A great, inexpensive way to feed bees sugar syrup without drowning them.
I believe this was one of the hives that had died, and there were just robber bees in there getting honey.

PENTAX ImageThis was a frame that had honey on it.  When she pulled out a frame and asked me if I could see the eggs and larvae, I squinted and looked and tilted the frame every which way and couldn't see anything.  Then I handed it back to her and said "I guess I need to go get my glasses".  She cracked up.  After I got my glasses on I could see the larvae and the eggs.  It's much easier to see them after you know what they look like--teeny tiny little itty bitty things.......

PENTAX ImageThis frame had queen cups on it.  When they are on the bottom of the frame like this I believe they are called swarm cells and that's when the bees build queen cells, the queen lays eggs in there and then she takes half the bees in the hive with her and they leave.....something beekeepers try to avoid.

I saw a few hive beetles but those pictures were blurry--little small black round bugs that move around the hive--very destructive little bugs, I might add.  They can kill a hive if not kept in check, but I only saw 3 in all the hives today.  She also showed me some drones--they are bigger than the worker bees, and I saw two queens.  One of them had a big white mark on her head--she was easy to spot!  The other one took a little time and she kept going into hidey-holes so we couldn't see her.  I did not get a picture of a mouse nest either.  It had actually built a nest in one of the frames and had eaten holes in several other frames, but we didn't see the mouse.  The bees will repair the holes in the foundation so she just put them back into the hive.

Another very exciting thing I saw was a bee actually coming out of its cell--being born, if you will!  I was so excited.  That was way cool!  The bee crawled out of her cell then turned right around and cleaned it out--AWESOME!  Bees are so interesting!

That's about it for the first day of beekeeping--well, keeping someone else's bees.  Mine are supposed to arrive in mid-late April and I can hardly wait.  The apiary is almost complete and ready for bees.......and no stings today!

 

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Completing the beehives

So I'm a compulsive list maker......checking tasks off of my lists gives me a feeling of accomplishment and it helps me to not forget things I really want to get done.  One of the wintertime items on the list was to get the hives ready for the bees' arrival in the spring.

The last post was about building the boxes and assembling the frames.  The hives have been sitting on the back porch (in the way, I might add) waiting for me to get back to them.  With the holidays over and the upstairs floor at least nailed down (not finished yet) I was able to get back to the hives.  The quilt is nothing more than a rectangular frame, just slightly (like 1/8";) smaller than the supers.  This facilitates the burlap being stapled to the outside of the quilt and still maintain airflow to the roof cavity.

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First off I used a piece of burlap that's about 3 inches larger than the bottom dimension of the quilt.  There just so happened to be a piece of burlap in my fabric stash, so I stapled the selvage edge first along one long side of the quilt.  Then it got stretched really tight and I stapled the other side in a few spots just to hold the fabric tight, then the excess was trimmed and the edge turned under to keep it from raveling.

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One of the quilts was fabricated from some scrap oak that was laying around and it was really difficult to get the staples to go all the way in.  It's also quite a bit heavier than the other one, which is made from pine--but---it was scrap.

Here is the hive with the quilt in its proper position--wood shavings go in when the hive gets set up in the apiary.   Bees keep their hives really warm during the winter--I think around 95 degrees or so.  When the warm air hits a cold roof cover the moisture in the air condenses and drips back down onto the bees, which could chill them and kill them.  The quilt absorbs the heat and humidity so condensation doesn't occur, plus it provides insulation from the cold and heat in the summer.  I've read that some people treat the burlap with a flour paste to keep the bees from shredding it.  That will get done closer to "bee-arrival" time.

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You can see the burlap stapled to the outer edge of the quilt.  Don't worry, the roof will cover that.....

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In fact, the roof covers the entire quilt and part of the top box.

Here is the first completed beehive.  Rough sawmill lumber was used for the roof gable ends because the lumber  purchased from the sawmill wasn't wide enough for the peak of the roof.  There was a board left over from the house siding (hemlock) so I used that.  It soaked up a lot more of the wood sealer than the finished boards.  The roof has a flat board inside that rests on top of the quilt so mice can't get into the nice nest of shavings.  A screened bottom board will allow for ventilation through the hive, and the little ramp at the bottom is for when the bees are tired and they can stumble into the hive (that's what I've read, anyway).  An entrance reducer will be added to keep the opening smaller when necessary or opened up all the way.  I'm not sure about all that yet, but I'm still learning.

I decided to name my hives after the signs of the zodiac--not that I believe any of that--but it made a convenient way to keep the first twelve hives separate for recordkeeping purposes.  A woodburning tool made the name permanent, rather than paint.  The Happy Hoer was born in the sign of Virgo :-)

 
 

What WAS I thinking?

Okay, so I got bitten by the "I-wanna-keep-bees" bug last summer.  I've been studying all about them and after pricing  beehives from several different sources, I decided to build my own hives.  It was going to be EXPENSIVE to get two hives set up, and the fact that I'm doing a little different twist on these hives made the decision easier.

A sort-of local sawmill (about 40 miles away) had dressed and kiln dried pine boards that were 1x8x8.  The Subaru veggie wagon was loaded!  The owner of the sawmill ended up giving me several extra boards that were odd lengths--lucky me :)  The lumber has been stacked in the dining room to keep it nice and dry.  Construction began a few days ago:

 

First, all the boards are cut into the proper lengths for the sides of the boxes.

Then all the boards get ripped to the right width for the medium box depth.  It's easier for me to rip the short boards rather than try to rip a long board.

After getting all the boards cut to size it was time to glue and screw.  I bought some star bit exterior tan-colored screws to fasten the boxes together.  A good smearing of wood glue is applied and clamps to hold the boards in place while fastening is necessary.  A small framing square is very helpful which pilot drilling and inserting screws at the corners.

A word of advice:  Do not cut the tip of your forefinger on a cardboard box while Christmas shopping with your mother the day before attempting this project.  It really makes it harder to do all this detailed work with an "ow-ie" on your finger.  Anyway, as the boxes were completed, they were stacked back in the dining room, only they take up a lot more room than they did as a stack of lumber!

I'm making 6 boxes for each hive and one extra box to make a swarm box for the swarm of bees I'll find next year :)

I also put together an entire case of frames (100) --they are everywhere, just waiting for the boxes to be painted.

Next come the "quilts"......

 
 

Progress of beekeeping on the farm

As mentioned in an earlier post, back in the summer I got bitten by the "bee bug".  After reading and reading and studying and attending meetings I've finally narrowed down the many choices for beekeeping styles to a Langstroth hive consisting of 8 frame medium supers.  They are lighter than the ten frame deeps that most beekeepers use, because they don't hold as much honey and comb as the 10 frame deeps.

I've also been reading about how the wax foundation that most beekeepers use has become contaminated with pesticides that beekeepers have been using for years.  I'm going to use frames so I can extract the honey and be somewhat flexible in moving frames, but I'm not going to use foundation.  I've read that bees build natural comb as fast or quicker than they do on wax foundation AND the foundation that is available is bigger than the normal size cell that a bee builds on their own.  This seems to facilitate the space for the Varroa mite to infest the brood nest of a colony.  I intend to keep bees the same way I garden, and that's "organical", so I'm going foundationless as well.

One thing I think I'm going to do is put Warre hive roofs and quilts on them to provide ventilation.  I didn't know it but bees have a real problem with condensation inside their hives, and they can actually drown, especially in the winter.  The Warre hive quilt and roof provide "breathable" insulation and a vented roof, so I'm going to put that on my hives instead of the normal flat roofs you see on beehives.

The area for the apiary on the farm that has been selected is nearby so I can watch the bees, it faces east, has a stream nearby, and is situated near a tree line to provide shelter from winter winds.  I've read that the ground needs to be clear of vegetation so if a bee falls on the ground while flying back to the hive that they can get back on their wings if not hampered by vegetation--so, I cleared the vegetation from the area and now I'm spreading wood chips from the utility company all around to make a nice clear area for the hives.

During the state beekeeping conference I attended a workshop where our state hive inspector opened a hive and showed us all kinds of things inside the hive; I like to pick up little tidbits during workshops and one thing he did say that was quite interesting was that one of the beekeepers in the state uses a 1 inch layer of lime underneath his hives to combat the small hive beetle.  He spreads it to a 3 foot area around the hives and the inspector said he had never seen a beetle in one of those hives.  Well, I have a huge pallet of lime that a friend gave me to lime my gardens with when I moved here, but turns out that my soil has a pH of 6.8 so I didn't need lime (very unusual in this part of the state).   That pallet of lime has just been waiting for my hives!  As soon as the wood chips are all in place and the hives go up, then I'll place the lime in its new home.

Today I purchased the lumber for the hives and I bought enough frames to do one box--I'm so excited :)

More info as the bee project progresses!

 
 

It's been a "beesy" couple of days

This summer I became interested in keeping bees on the farm, for a couple of reasons.  Number one is the increase in productivity of the crops grown on the farm, but also to maybe get a little honey off the hives to complement the mix of eggs, fruits, and veggies grown on the farm.

Earlier this year I met a lady selling honey at the farmers market.  Turns out that she and my oldest son worked together when he was in high school.  Well, she sort of "took me under her wing", and invited me to the Cumberland County Beekeepers meeting.  I went to the meetings all summer, met some really nice people, and started learning about bees.  I didn't realize that bees were so complicated!  And so well organized--and they don't even have ears :-)  It's all done with pheramones.

I've purchased three books "Bees for Dummies", Practical Beekeeping by Michael Bush, and The Backyard Beekeeper by Kim Flottum, who is editor of Bee Culture magazine.  My beekeeping friend loaned me about 60 or more Bee Culture and American Bee Journal magazines to read.  I've been reading, and reading, and Googling about bees and have just been really learning all I can about beekeeping and bees.

Well, beginner's luck would have it that the Tennessee Beekeepers Association Fall Convention was held in nearby Cookeville on Friday and Saturday (28 & 29) this year and I was able to attend both days.  After learning about all the viruses, parasites, and hive bugs, the poor honeybees are struggling to stay alive.  Add to that something that I didn't know and I bet a lot of you didn't know:  In the spring there are about 1.6 million bee colonies that are moved to the almond plantations in California to pollinate the almond crop!  After the bees get through there they will be moved to other "pollination destinations" throughout the growing season.  These operations are also very stressful to the bees.

Another one of the classes at the conference was a hive inspection.  I didn't know you were supposed to have a veil (I didn't even own one).  A fellow Cumberland County beekeeper loaned me his hand-me-down bee suit:

 

That's me!  We were all standing around our State Hive Inspector (he was teaching the class) and I could hardly get close enough to see in the hive so I stuck out my lower lip and mumbled "gee, I've never seen inside a hive"-- well, the waters parted!  I got front row and a drone placed on my arm.  We saw lots of hive beetles, varroa on some larvae, and a bee with "deformed wing syndrome".  All-in-all the hive was healthy though--the inspector said he could always find things in hives.

Another class I attended was nectar and pollen plants for bees--I was so happy when I left that class because the bee-girls are going to be thrilled at what grows around here!

Other classes on feeding bees, getting them through the winter and first year beekeeping just confirmed a lot of the information I had been studying.  I'm sure glad I did study before I went to the conference, because it would have gotten really confusing if I didn't have that little knowledge beforehand.

They had door prizes and I won a year subscription to The American Bee Journal!  That was a nice prize.  Before I left the conference I bought a jacket and veil.  It makes the whole process feel more tangible--my first"bee thing" AND if someone does invite me to go with them to their hives, I'll be better prepared.

One of the winter-time projects around the farm is to build bee-hives for the spring arrivals.  A couple of the presenters  said to get at least two and not more than 5 hives so they can be compared to each other.  I'll post the progress of the beehive construction . . . a friend has promised to saw some poplar on his sawmill for this project, so for now I wait on lumber.

 
 
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