Wild Things Farm

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

Time to light the fire

I don't know about where you live, but this fall in Tennessee has been absolutely AMAZING!  The weather has been in the 60's and 70's, cool nights, rain every few days, and the colors on the trees are quite spectacular.

The cool nights bring on the woodstoves and fireplaces.  Many years ago a guy I worked with showed me how to make fire starters and I've been using them ever since.  Thought I'd share the handy trick with you.

Save your old candles or ones that don't quite smell like you thought they would, and melt them down.  I use a kitchen grease container on VERY LOW heat.  A double boiler would be better, but anyway, after the wax melts, pour it into paper egg cartons, let them harden, tear them apart, and voila!  Instant fire starter.  Just set one on top of your kindling and light the paper carton and it works great.

 
 

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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