Experience is a brutal teacher. But you learn, my God, do you learn.

-C.S. Lewis

Stream In January

Stream In January

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Late August Hive Inspection

Four weeks ago I took 16 shallow frames of honey from Walter Bee. I'll tell you briefly how I took the honey and what I did with it. I had done a lot of reading and talking with other beekeepers about ways to remove the honey, but hadn't quite decided what to do. Blowing the bees off with a high-powered blower seemed brutal to me. I have friends who use this method, but they are running between 40 and 50 hives and it's fast and efficient for them. I read about Bee Go, a chemical used on a fume board to drive the bees down in the hive. But anything that reads "Hazardous price on shipping will apply - call for quote" was NOT going on my bees. And then someone told me it smelled like vomit (sorry) and there really no more thought about the Bee Go. Again, I know folks who use it. There is another product called Fischer's Bee Quick and it's advertised as all natural and smells nice. I considered this. Another friend I spoke with tried bee escapes, but after he had placed them in his frames, we had rain for a couple of days, he could not remove the frames and the bees figured out how to get back up to the honey. He ended up doing what I did.

And this is what I did....Along with the help of my husband, we donned bee hats and veils, gloves, long sleeve white shirts and long pants. We took a smoker, hive tool, frame lifter, bee brush, large plastic tub and a large towel to the beeyard. I very gently smoked the entrance to the hive and opened up the top. The topmost super contained sourwood honey. In a period of 3 weeks the bees had drawn comb and made and capped honey in 6 frames. The remaining 4 frames were completely drawn and contained honey, but were not completely capped. Using my frame lifter, I removed the 6 frames, one by one, and brushed the bees back into the hive. As the frames were cleared of bees, I handed them to my husband who put them in the tub and covered them with the towel. Didn't want to create a robbing incident and we were successful. I then removed the super with 4 frames left and started on the second.

The second super contained much darker honey. This was tulip poplar. All 10 frames were filled and capped. We decided since we were in the hive, we'd continue. I didn't use anymore smoke and I continued lifting frames and brushing bees. We were successful in removing all 10 frames, although towards the end the bees were getting QUITE TESTY and who could blame them. I was taking what they had worked so hard for and I felt a little guilty. The only incident came just as we were finishing. Two bees got up underneath my veil and one stung me on the side of my eye. I guess it served me right. (I think I will invest in a hat and veil that attach to a jacket. That way the bees can't get in. Might be a good Christmas gift. Hmmmm.)

It took a while to get all 16 frames to the garage for ovenight storage, but we managed a few frames at a time. They were heavy!

This is what I did with the honey. I extracted the 6 frames of sourwood and 4 frames of the tulip poplar. I'll post on that later, but I used a crush and strain methed and it was very simple.

I added 6 frames back to Walter using only starter strips of wax. To Ora I gave 6 frames of the dark honey and filled in with 4 frames, again, only containing starter strips of wax.

When I inspected my hives today, this is what I found.

Of the 4 new frames in Ora, the workers have drawn comb in 2. Lots of pollen in those cells. There has been no activity on the other 2 frames, but our honeyflows are over. The sourwood is long gone and our weather is getting cool. For the winter, Ora will have 16 full frames of honey.

The bees in Walter have drawn comb in 4 of the 6 frames I added but there is no pollen. They've also finished capping the 4 frames of sourwood I left. It's there for them for the winter. Walter will have 14 frames of capped honey. My goal was for each colony to have 60 pounds of honey to overwinter and the bees have accomplished this and more. I don't think I'll have to feed this year. Also, no more wax foundation. I had to see for myself, but the bees don't need it. They know how to draw comb.

I'm holding this frame with my frame lifter, a tool I like very much. I don't smush bees when I use it. I also wear gloves because I feel more comfortable and I don't want to risk being stung on the hand and dropping a frame of bees.
When I was working the hives today, I noticed there is still quite a bit of pollen coming in. The colors are white, yellow and orange. I'm not sure where it's coming from, but obviously the bees are still finding things in bloom. I also saw very few drones. Our weather is supposed to be very fall-like this week with 40's for morning lows. The drones days are numbered. I might do one more hive inspection before the cold gets here, or maybe not. I'm a very hands-off beekeeper and so far it seems to be working very well for me. My bees know what they are doing. Life in an organic garden :)

If I've bored the pants off anyone who might be reading, I'm sorry, but I had to get this all down. I have to be a better recordkeeper!

Baby Bears

I'm not Mark, yet, but I finally figured out a way to get some great bear pictures off a disc and onto the blog! I'm so happy. I have lots of pix that my father-in law has taken. He caught these 2 cubs in the feeder last year. Mama was close by. I'll share more as time permits. Enjoy these little guys. This is one of the joys of living in the mountains. Yeah, yeah, I know, I won't be saying that when they raid my beehives.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Joe-Pye and Drones

One of my favorite people in the whole world had some comments, questions about Joe-Pye Weed and drones yesterday. I decided to devote this post to those two subjects.

Joe-Pye is indigenous to the Eastern US. It likes moist soil so is perfect for the mountain area. (I live in a designated rain forest. It's not unusual for us to have 80 - 100 inches of rain each year.) I don't know that I had ever seen Joe-Pye until I moved to the mountains, but I'm also much more aware of what's blooming around me since I've become a beekeeper. Although I see some honeybees on the blooms, the bumblebees and butterflies are much more numerous. I think it's a must for a butterfly garden. At the back of the border, please, because it can get quite tall. I have 3 different types of Joe-Pye Weed in the garden. I think it's a shame to call it a weed. I much prefer wildflower.

This is a cultivar I planted last fall. The bloom is quite small compared to the others, but the foliage is red and I like that about it. It's just beginning to bloom and should last well into the fall. This plant is about 4' tall. This is another cultivar I planted a couple of years ago. It has been blooming for a couple of weeks and this is the one the butterflies and bumblebees really like. It, too, is about 4' tall. When this was first planted it was a very small clump but has more than doubled in size since then.

The 3 tall spikes are our native Joe-Pye. These stalks are easily 9' tall. They have been blooming for several weeks now and are well past their prime. I will leave them until the first frost as they self-seed and I like having them in the garden. My garden is full of native wildflowers and sometimes I have to work around them when planting, but I don't mind. If I never planted another flower in the garden, the bees, butterflies and birds would have plenty of forage.

Alas, the poor drone. The drone bee is the male in the hive and his story is short. He has one purpose - to mate with the queen. After he mates he dies. The drones that don't mate basically just lay around the hive and do nothing. They don't bring in pollen or nectar. They don't build comb or make honey. So when fall arrives the workers start driving them out. The colony reduces in number to survive the winter and will not tolerate drones eating the honey stores. They've done nothing all summer so they have to go. I've simplified, but that's the story of a drone.

In recent days our weather has turned almost fall-like and I'm seeing lots of drones being escorted out or either not allowed back in. This big fellow had been hanging on the entrance board and seemed hesitant to even try to get back in the hive. As soon as he made his attempt he was followed by this worker bee.

Here there are more workers "escorting" him out. He didn't make it back into the hive on this try. Maybe later, but not this time.

It's been almost 4 weeks since I've checked the hives, but from the outside things look good. I can see that the colonies are getting somewhat smaller, but the workers are still quite busy bringing in lots of golden yellow pollen. I think it must be goldenrod. I had hoped to do a good hive inspection yesterday, but I've come down with a nasty cold and will wait until the weekend.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Quick Trip Around The Garden

Butterfly on Joe-Pye WeedHoneybee on Goldenrod

"I said get out and stay out!" Drone being driven from the hive. (:


Honeybee on Mountain Mint

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What's Blooming?

Summer is quickly leaving the mountains. There are signs of fall all around and I, for one, am happy. So many people say to me, "You must love summer, because you garden." And I say "I do." But I'm always ready for fall. Time to wind down, put the garden to bed, anticipate the fragrance of the first fire in the fireplace and enjoy the fall color that is so spectacular here in the mountains.

I have tried during the summer season to keep a photo journal of the plants that the bees have foraged on most heavily. I will post those photos soon. The trees that have been most important to the bees were the tulip poplar, locust and sourwood. All have now quit blooming so the workers are having to rely on the remaining flowers in bloom.

The following photos are of Autumn Joy Sedum. On sunny afternoons you can hardly see the blooms it is so covered with bees. Earlier during the summer the Lamb's Ear was by far the most popular plant for the girls, but I think the sedum has taken the lead for the most favorite. The sweet fragrance is attractive to me. I can see why the bees are loving it.

This is bronze fennel. It is covered in pollen and the bees are also working it quite vigorously. In the background are our native sunflowers. They are all over the garden and a source of food for the bees and the goldfinch. Sometimes they bend over almost to the ground because there are so many finch feeding on the seed. Also in the background is bee balm. It turned out to be a more important source of food for bumblebees, butterflies and hummingbirds than for the honeybees, but it will remain in my garden because of those bees and birds plus I love the color and the fragrance. It's long since past it's prime and will go in the compost pile this weekend.

I realized this morning as I strolled through the garden that I cater to my bees much like I did my children when they were growing up. Whatever the bees need, I will try to give them. We live on a stream so they always have a supply of fresh mountain water. There are also several birdbaths and a fountain in the yard and I can always see bees on them. They prefer the running water in the fountain. There is a nice electric fence protecting them from the bears as they rest in the evening. (I hope.) I don't love lamb's ear because of it's shaggy flowering habit, but I spent the first part of the week transplanting lamb's ear so the bees will have plenty for next season. I could pull up half of the bee balm and still have enough to share with half the county, but I won't do it. In fact, I transplanted more this week. Same thing with the borage that self-seeded all over the garden. If it had a bee on it, and it always did, I left it. Thankfully, it's done and already in the compost. The list could go on.

Yeah, I'm crazy, but my bees have rewarded me with some beautiful tulip poplar and sourwood honey. But more than that, the honeybees, along with everything else that flies in my garden space, have given me a peace that I've never before experienced in my many years of gardening.

One of my favorite stepping stones says "How lovely is the silence of growing things". My garden is not silent. It hums with life.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Owls and Coyotes and BEARS! Oh My.

We live in an area of great natural beauty that is home to a wide variety of wildlife. We often hear owls and coyotes calling at night. Deer and wild turkeys are seen frequently and occasionally we spot a bobcat. There are also many small animals such as foxes, raccoons, possums, skunks, squirrels, rabbbits, chipmunks, etc. And then there are the bears.

Part of the appeal of living in the mountains is knowing that you will see bears in the summer. We learned a long time ago that you don't leave a birdfeeder out at night or you won't have a feeder in the morning. We also learned not to leave garbage cans outside. One Thanksgiving, a hungry bear finished off the turkey carcass we left in the garbage. We could see the imprint of his huge backside in the snow where he sat and feasted on the remains of our dinner.

I had not seen a bear this season and I was a little sad, but also glad they were not bothering my beehives. That had been a huge concern when I decided to put the hives in my garden. But just recently my daughter had seen several in the area when she was hiking and my husband came in and had seen one just a few miles up the road. I started thinking, oh no, I may be in trouble. Sure enough, that same evening we were out on the porch eating dinner when the dogs went crazy barking. I immediately headed for the garden and there they were - 2 BEARS headed right for the hives. Thankfully, with the dogs making such a noise and us yelling, they took off.

After all the commotion died down, we turned on the electric fence to make sure it was working properly and much to my horror, it wasn't working! (We only turn it on during the night since the dogs and I are in the garden and around the hives so much during the day.) My husband determined that the transformer had probably burned out and since it was late there was nothing we could do to replace it. I knew I'd have to rely on the dogs to guard the garden and hives for the evening. They did a great job and thankfully the bears did not return that night. I headed to the farm store first thing the next morning and by mid-day the hives were once again protected by an electric fence. I've never really been convinced that the fence would deter a hungry bear, but after working with it for a while, my husband confirms that it will. He's still glowing in the dark after being shocked. :)

August is a beautiful month here. It's just different somehow. The skies are bluer, the days are noticeably shorter and it seems like all the wildlife is starting to prepare for the cold weather they know is coming. The bears included. Jack, our big, black, flat-coat retriever has decided he wants to stay outside at night. Even though he can't get in the fenced garden at night, he knows he had a job to do. The bears are out there. You can hear them in the surrounding woods in the quiet of the evenings. It's where I live.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Busy August Days

I've been reminded recently by family and friends that I haven't posted anything for a while. When I looked, I couldn't believe it has been almost a month. Well, things are good, but I've just been incredibly busy with the garden, bees and life in general for the past few weeks.

This picture tells a lot of the story. I've been canning green beans. There will be a later post on the great greasy green bean adventure. I've also harvested my first honey and made my first wax block. What fun! The wax is pure, golden yellow and smells wonderful. I'll use it to make candles for the holiday season.

Seems like everything I've done recently has been filled with excitement, but the biggest event was the first of the bear sightings in the garden. I'll tell that story later, also, but thank goodness for our dogs, Jack and Ansley. I still have 2 beehives in tact thanks to them.

The much needed rain has quit so I'm out the door to pick more beans, cucumbers and tomatoes. I have a lot of catching up to do on this blog and I promise myself I will get it done. I created this blog to be a better record-keeper, but I'll never be Thomas Jefferson. :(