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?



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.


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.


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!



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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