Archive for honeybees

Bees before the storm

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It was 47* F yesterday. The bees were not happy, but they were moving. They have to get out of their hive to evacuate their digestive system. Earlier this spring when we had a warm day, the snow in front of their hives looked like someone had sprayed tobacco juice. Kinda gross to think about bee poop, but as Perry would say, “Everybody poops!”.

We hadn’t put entrance reducers on our hives last fall and only realized this when we went to confirm survival rates. Most of our bees either froze or starved, so I’m doing everything I can to keep these two remaining hives alive. A snack of sugar water while the temperature is nearly 50 can only help. So I tromped through foot high snow with sugar water and entrance reducers. It is Michigan, so of course, they are predicting 20- temps tonight.

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I was promptly earned my badge of honor- my first bee sting of the year.

#FarmGirlStrong

Long, hard winter for the bees.

The cold killed many honeybees this year. Some directly. Others starved because it was too cold to move from their cluster in the center of the hive to reach the honey in the edges.

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We made the trek out to our hives this afternoon in knee deep snow and bright sunshine.

Only two of our five hives have bees as of March. We are very happy to have the two that made it through this cold.

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Our Little Orchard

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My goal is for our family to be capable of feeding ourselves – completely independent from grocery stores for anything other than toilet paper. (Well, maybe coffee, too). Some days that goal seems insurmountable.

Today however, we are surrounded by abundance. We have a super tiny orchard- just under a dozen dwarf apple, four pear and two cherry trees. We picked up *buckets* of windfall apples earlier this summer and made apple sauce and apple cider vinegar. Then the tree branches were so full they were bending to perilous angles and we picked *buckets* of unripe fruit to keep our trees from being damaged.

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As the real harvest approaches, I am overwhelmed with the blessing of the bounty! Apple pie filling for the freezer, cider, sauce and fruit leather for school lunch boxes, dehydrated apple pieces for oatmeal and granola… And to think I wanted to plant more trees!

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Why yes!

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As a matter of fact, I DO have a bee in my bonnet!

Honey harvest 2013 ends

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We started the season with 4 hives. Two hives increased the number of bees so much that we were able to make “splits”. We added a purchased queen to a hive and moved the extra bees to her in order to form a new hive and prevent them from swarming. So by mid-spring we had 6 hives. We ended the season with 4 strong hives, one weak hive and one dead hive. We didn’t harvest any honey from our weak hive and might give them some extra honey from another hive depending on what they look like as the season gets colder.

The hive that died out got hit with wax moths and wasn’t strong enough to overcome them. We will scrape out all the old wax and seal the wood frames and hive boxes inside giant garbage bags with a box of moth balls to make sure there are no wax moth larvae surviving. The wax is hard to scrape and web-y from the moths. It is not a favorite job of mine, but the whole family sat around the picnic table chatting and working on it together when it happened last year.

The best thing we can do to prevent wax moths is to keep a strong hive. We are breeding hardy stock among our other, surviving hives. The hives that die out are necessary losses.

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Family Rituals

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Doing farm chores can be a real drag for the children. I don’t want to create an environment from which the children long to escape, rather I hope they enjoy the aspects that interest them and look forward to certain annual rituals.

One of the rituals surrounding the honey harvest involves a giant bowl. When Joe and I are done loading the hive boxes to be processed, we bring the excess honey comb out on the picnic table in a giant bowl. The comb is sticky with honey and has bees whose wings got dripped on and feet that got stuck in the honey still covering it. Now we all gather around the bowl and begin the dance of flicking the remaining bees away from “our” honey in order to enjoy and chew the dripping comb.

An Abundance of Honey

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DearHusband and I checked the bees on a rare calm, cool evening this week. They are drawing comb, storing honey and our hives all look healthy and strong.

DH added a new level, or “super” to 3 of the hives.

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See how the wood looks uniform in color on the top super? Brand new frames hold a skinny piece of starter “foundation” wax for the bees to begin building their honeycomb onto. We use bobby pins to hold the foundation wax in place initially. The bees have drawn their pure white wax onto this piece, but not yet filled it with anything.

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Next year the wood will take on a more seasoned look, after the bees have made it theirs. I love the color and texture of old honey frames.

Spring Honeybees, Summer Fruit Trees

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A handful of our honeybees congregated on the lid of their hive as we were racing the sunset to finish our work. DearHusband had split some of our hives to prevent them from swarming and we were “re-queening” at dusk. The newly split hive hadn’t had time to rear a new queen, and we were providing them a darling in a box. She arrives in a tiny screened box, 1/4 the size of an Altoids box, with a couple caretaker bees. This new queen is held captive in her tiny windowed room by a plug of bee food that will be eaten away in the two or three days necessary for the hive to accept her. Once she has begun laying eggs, we will breath a sigh of relief and begin to enjoy the view of our tiny orchard being pollinated.

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I am not afraid

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My dear husband is in charge of our 6 hives of honeybees. It looks like our bees fared quite well this winter. They came through with plenty of leftover honey, pollen and lots of new brood.

Our youngest boy, known as FlyingBoy as he rarely does anything slowly, has been afraid of bees. Today he and I walked out to observe dear husband at work in the hives.

“Why does daddy have on that suit?”

“Because he is going into the bees house and they don’t like it. They protect their house by flying very close to and sometimes even trying to sting him. But his suit protects him so he doesn’t feel their stings.”

“Why don’t we have on suits?”

“Because we are not touching the bees house. We are going to sit back here and observe quietly. We don’t have on any stinky smells like cologne or perfume that would make them worry that we might be an animal that would steal their honey.”

We sit perfectly still for a few moments, listening to the deep buzzzzz.

“Do you want to go a little closer and look at the frame that holds the bee babies, the honey and the pretty pollen?”

“Okay, if you come with me.” he whispers, encircling my ear with his hand.

We creep forward slowly, in complete silence. Now we’re are sitting about 2 feet from the hive and daddy is holding a frame out for us to see it up close. It has many bees crawling on it.

In hushed voice I say, “Ohhhh! Look at the pretty colors! Those different shades of yellow and green are pollen that the bees have collected from all kinds of plants. Pretty cool, huh?”

Long pause, while FlyingBoy quietly observes.

“Mom? I’m not afraid anymore.”

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