Posts Tagged ‘Bees’


Update after a long hiatus

October 21, 2012

It has been over 6 months since I last posted.  I give no excuses; it just happened.  But here’s a bit of a catch up.

One of our llamas died in the spring.  She ate some hemlock.  That left us with just Serendipity – and a lone llama has a propensity for getting into trouble.  SerendiptiySerendipity kept finding ways to escape our field.  One day a woman pulled into the driveway to tell us our llama was in the park that borders our property.  It took my husband, this woman, and 3 more passers-by to herd her back into the field.  She had so much fun!

And then the first day of school she did it again.  I got a call from the high school principal telling me he’d let my son out of school to help wrangle the llama.  She clearly needed friends (and we needed to upgrade the fencing).

Acci and Cheetah

The fencing was upgraded and my husband found a local llama farm that needed to downsize, and that is how we ended up with Acci and Cheetah.

Acci and Cheetah are older than Serendipity.  We don’t know for sure, but think Serendipity is about 4 years old.  Acci and Cheetah are 8 and 6 years old.  All three get along quite well, not super chummy, but they hang out together (but also spit at one another for the slightest offense).

No pictures of the flower or vegetable gardens.  We had a severe drought and very hot temperatures and everything was just fried.  Finally, in September, the tomatoes started to fill out and ripen – but not at anywhere near the rate we are used to.  We still have plenty of tomatoes, but also occasional frosts; we eat what we can.  Tonight, my husband made some green fried tomatoes for dinner, and oven roasted potatoes (also from the garden).  Mmmm.

The honey bees had a time of it too.  I obtained two swarms in May.  One I put in a Langstroth (the rectangular boxes) with some old comb from previous inhabitants, and one I put in the topbar hive.  Those bees, though, had to start from scratch, with no comb.  The drought was too much.  The couldn’t bring in enough nectar to both build comb and store honey, so eventually they left in search of better digs.  I hope they found some. 

The other hives, however, are doing quite well.  My husband and I put mouseguards on the hives today (so mice don’t winter in the nice warm hive) and rearranged boxes as we saw fit.DSCF1276  I like to have the bulk of the bees and their honey start at the bottom of the hive so they can work their way up during the winter.  I also moved a box of honey from one very strong hive to a weaker one.  I’ll feed the two weakest hives also so they can store more honey until it’s too cold for them to move about.  Fingers crossed this will get them through the winter and early spring.

That’s the short version of the last 6 months.  I’ll try to write more before another 6 months slip by.  Until then, enjoy the Autumn!


Honey Harvest

July 24, 2011

Motivated by the bottom of my last jar of honey I have harvested some honey from the hives over the last few days.

The bee escape needed some expected modifications – the bees easily climbed through the openings of the mesh.  But since I was in the hive I decided to take some individual frames (rather than an entire box).  I sorted through two boxes and took a couple of frames of nicely capped honey and put them in a 5 gallon bucket I’d brought for just this eventuality.  Of course there were lots of bees on those frames, but this group was easily brushed off, a towel was tossed over the frames and buckets, I left my bee clothes down in my storage box and I traipsed on home.

By the way, this was the first time I really felt I’d put the nitrile gloves to the test.  No stings.  Between my hat, veil, scrubs, and nitrile gloves I feel invincible!

The next day I went down and retrieved a couple more frames.  I also put the bee escape, version 2, on the 2nd hive.  Today I opened that hive again and the bee escape had done a fine job.  Where yesterday there had been thousands of bees in that box, today there were about 50.  The box and the 50 bees went into a wheelbarrow and took a ride up to the house.  In the yard I chose the frames I wanted to harvest – not all were fully capped (the bees cover over the comb cell – cap them – when the honey is ready) – brushed off the bees and brought them (the frames, not the bees) inside.  Meanwhile the bees that had come along on the box gave up on those frames and were lapping up spilled honey.   Later, I took the wheelbarrow and box back to the hive with about 1/2 of the bees that had been on the box before – the others were flying around near the house.  They were still around at dinner time too, mostly in a little cluster.  They may have been chilly.  If they are still there in the morning I’ll try to put them in a cup and take them back to the hive.

Meanwhile – back to harvesting.

Many beekeepers use extractors that spin the frames around and cause the honey to sling out of the honey comb.  These combs, however, are typically built on foundation and that makes them a bit sturdier.  I don’t use foundation so I use the crush and strain method.  Its pretty much how it sounds – you crush up the comb and strain the honey through a mesh strainer.

Here are some pics:DSCF9424

Frames in the bucketDSCF9429,


frames in the pan before crushing,





and all smushed up!  Notice the dark and light honey; they taste a bit different from each other, but they are all going into the same mix.


…pouring the mess into the strainer where it will sit overnight.DSCF9430

All told I have about 2 to 2.5 gallons of honey. 

I hope to harvest a few more frames in the Fall.  I want to be sure the bees have enough honey for the winter though.  I tend to be very conservative – I’d feel horrible if they starved to death – and it isn’t as if I am making my living doing this.

I also have a bit of trepidation about this honey.  Not all the honey was capped yet – that’s bound to happen, and I tried to limit how much uncapped honey I took.  The problem with uncapped honey is it has too much water content and it isn’t “shelf-stable” yet.  A little uncapped honey isn’t an issue, but too much will raise the water content in the honey and that can lead to honey that ferments.  Fermented honey is generally not good (although not everyone thinks it has to be tossed).  Another issue is the humidity – honey will actually extract water from the air.  It was very humid this week and I put the honey bucket in the garage overnight a couple of nights so the warmth (hot nights) would keep the honey dripping through the wax and mesh.  Now I’m wondering if that was such a good idea.  Oh well, only time will tell.  Until the honey ferments – if it will at all – it will be perfectly fine.

Tomorrow I bottle.


February Bee Update

February 13, 2011

It is nearly 50 degrees today so I went to check the bees.  On Dec 31st it had been warm and bees were flying from 3 of the 4 hives, suggesting one hive was already dead.  Today I put my ear to the side of each hive and rapped a couple of times.  Two hives rewarded me with buzzing.  Two were quiet.

I opened the two I suspected of being dead and they clearly were.  The hives were heavy though, so they hadn’t run out of food. When I looked further I found that the queens in both hives had been laying eggs and each hive had lots of open brood (larvae that hadn’t been covered over yet).  The bees would have been working hard to keep those larvae warm, so hard that they couldn’t move to where the honey was, or they were so spread out they froze.  Either way, they’re dead.

The living colonies were the two smaller ones, the one I’d won and the swarm I caught.  I’ll want to do what I can to keep them alive through the rest of February and into March.  I have top hive feeders on each hive.  I cut comb from frames of honey from the two dead hives and put that in each feeder.  This week is supposed to be in the 40’s, 50’s, even 60’s, so hopefully the bees will be warm enough that they can go up to the feeders and bring honey back down.  When the weather gets cold again at the end of next week, with any luck the bees will have some stores to get them through until the next warmish day when I can put more in.

That’s the plan anyway.  Keep those fingers crossed.


Miscellaneous catching up

June 20, 2010

I’m on summer break – you’d think I’d have nothing but time.  Nope. I may not be teaching, but this year I have plenty of work-related and professional projects to keep me busy busy busy.  Plus it is summer, so we have to have fun too.  Between work, visiting, and company there aren’t many minutes left.  And it has been hot!  When it is hot I lose my will to do anything – including blog I guess.

But, we’ll be off on vacation trips without Internet access, so I thought maybe I’d give a quick catch up.

THE SLEEPOVERfuzzy flip flops

My daughter’s sleepover went well.  The main activity after dinner was making fuzzy flip flops




Closer to dark was the fire and s’mores. s'more makin's I thought the girls would prefer the more classic milk chocolate for their s’mores but the dark chocolate with mint was the favorite.

Much sugar and at least one young lady dedicated to being awake as much as possible meant that at best the girls slept from midnight until 4 a.m.  The plan had been for the party to go until 10 a.m. but one left exhausted at 7, another was picked up at 9 for a family party, and since my daughter was asleep in the hammock, we called the last set of parents and they came a little early for their daughter.  My girl slept on and off in the morning and then all afternoon. But she went to a silent movie festival with her father and brother that night and was right as rain the next day.


I still have 4 hives.  I’m pretty sure the swarm I caught was actually from my hive that overwintered, but both are doing o.k.  Because I will be gone for a couple of weeks I have made sure that everyone has space to expand.  In fact, I put a box on the hive I won today.  I also bought a screened bottom board and telescoping lid for “the shack” where the swarm was hived.  It looks much better now.  Sorry, no pics – it was close to 90 while I worked today and it took every ounce of energy from me.  Wait, want to see some new equipment – it is in the back of the picture of the girls making flip flops.  Not only did I get a bottom board,  cover, and the parts for 40 frames, but 5 cypress boxes.  I bought cypress so I didn’t have to paint them.


Snow peas, radishes, and lettuce are our primary product at the moment.  We’re going away for the week; meeting most of my husband’s family at a house in northern Michigan.  We’ll pick the rest of the lettuce and peas to take with us because the lettuce probably won’t last the week, especially has hot as it has been.

The onion and garlic look great, the potatoes are starting to bloom as are the green beans.  Tomato and pepper plants seem fine and zucchini and cucumber plants are growing. 

The wild black raspberries are ripe right now down by the beehives, but it is just too hot to go pick them.  I know that means we won’t have any, but I’m the only one who eats them anyway, accept for the raccoons and other wildlife.  I guess they’ll get to feast on them all.

The Japanese beetles killed off most of our grapes last year.  We have some vines coming in the mail as well as sweet potato plants.  Like I said though, we’ll be away for a week – I hope they arrive about Friday so that we can put them all in next weekend.


And now it is back to getting ready for the real world, like tomorrow’s 8 hour and 5 minute drive (according to The first big trip for the Escape (at least since we bought it).  Perhaps by the time we get back I’ll have green things to report.


Earth-related Fun

April 24, 2010

I celebrated Earth day about a week early on April 14th.

Ed Begley Jr and Jill and I - croppedFirst, a friend and I saw Ed Begley, Jr. at Illinois State University.  He’s not an expert, just a guy making a point of living his principles.  His message was do one cheap little something and when you save enough money (because the cheap little something, like using CFLs or turning down your thermostat will save you money) then do another cheap little thing.  I think what I was most impressed by was that he drove his Prius from LA to Central IL.  It took him 3.5 days (he told me that at the book signing – I bought Ed Begley, Jr.’s Guide to Sustainable Living  – haven’t started it yet; not a great shot of course – cell phone quality).

My friend and I then went A meteor was sighted over much of the Midwest on April 14, 2010. This screen grab is from a University of Wisconsin-Madison webcam.out to dinner  and on our way home (separate cars – we met after work) we saw the April 14th midwest meteor.  This is NOT what we saw.  If I had seen that I would have thought we were under attack.  This is a screen grab from the University of Wisconsin/Madison video that I got off of NPR.  What my friend and I saw was a flash that made me look and then I saw a small ball of yellow light – a plane? no, a part of a firework? no…. then within probably 3 seconds it was gone.  Still, it was bright enough that I was very surprised to find it had fallen several hundred miles away.

The other significant earthy thingpackage of bees I did the week of Earth Day was install a package of bees in the hive where the colony had died.  Here is the generous 3lb package of bees from Long Lane Honey Bee Farms.  My son wielded the camera as I installed the bees.  Here they are going in.  shake and dump I have checked on the bees since then.  The queen is out and the girls were filling the bottom box so thoroughly that I added a second box.  I do not want my hives swarming again this year!  I’ve been feeding them a little honey, but I have seen them bringing in pollen, so they probably really don’t need me to.

The other colony is going great guns.  I have 4 boxes on that hive – as many as I had at the end of last year.  I hope they’ll stay happy and make honey for all of us (MaryAnn – I haven’t forgotten you!).

For Earth Day itself I can’t say I did anything in particular.  I was doing my civic duty at a meeting that went extra long in the early evening, so I didn’t even get to have dinner with my family – local chicken and fresh asparagus from the garden cooked on the grill.  They did save me some though and it was gooood.

And while I’m here.  Let me apologize for the paucity of posts – both recently and in the near future.  It is so hectic between work and family that there just isn’t enough hours in the day.  But in less than a month my schedule will loosen up considerably and then the posts will come fast and furious. 


Spring is getting away from me!

April 13, 2010

The month is nearly 1/2 over and I haven’t written anything since the end of March!  It hasn’t been for lack of anything to say it has been for lack of any time to say it.

The last couple of weeks have seemed particularly crazy, probably because the kids had some time off from school but my husband and I did not.  The following week my husband had a conference in Denver to go to for a few days.  The kids are old enough to be a help rather than a hindrance and we were fine on our own, but just all that changing of schedules makes things a little crazy.  On top of that a group of my students were Student Expo 2010presenting some research we did. It is a large-scale survey of beekeepers and a beekeeper and fellow educator from about 3 hours away has helped us out.  He came down for the presentation and we all went to lunch and then the exhibition.   Again, not a problem, a good thing (my students did a great job explaining the research to everyone who wanted to hear), but still an additional stressor.

[n this picture from the paper my research group is right at the top of the page.  Hayley’s head is cut off, you can barely see Rebecca, Larry is the beekeeper/educator/consultant, then Candice and Anne.]

Back to stressors. My son’s track season has started, so now there are often two or three meets a week to attend.  The first one of the season was a windy chilly afternoon.  But it was a good day for my son who had some good performances and a couple of personal bests.

Track means rearranging piano lessons for my son to who knows when.  And my daughter still has her dance classes and piano lessons to work in to the mix.  Meanwhile the yard and garden are beckoning.  My husband has cleared and tilled the vegetable garden and has planted about a quarter of it.  He’s the sewer, I’m the harvester – I’m not sure now it worked out that way, but it works for us.  I am clearing the flower beds one at a time.  The edging needs fixing on a few of them too, a nice task for a pleasant evening – if we could find one when we’re home.

The yard is in need of the first mow of the season and we missed an opportunity.  My son came home and was at loose ends – he was so bored he actually offered to mow, but alas the mower isn’t up and running yet. [Yes, I know a riding mower is not green – someday we’ll invest in a greener alternative – but at the moment it is the only way to deal with about an acre of yard (it is primarily grass, but we it is definitely not a lawn)].

Finally, yesterday I had a project to finish up and two classes to teach.  Done.  It means I am now caught up by the skin of my teeth in my classes – not at all ahead, but at least caught up.  On Tuesdays I work from home, the weather is beautiful and my body has had enough of this go go go (as evidenced by the cold sore that popped out on my lip) so I did no more “real” work other than what I needed to do for classes tomorrow.  Otherwise I’m trying to chill a bit.

Part of my chilling out today involved attending to the the bees  – not that they appreciated it. They had built some comb straight up into an empty box that I had on top of their hive for feeding them this winter.  When I saw it the weather was too chilly to do anything about it so I put some more frames in the box, some with comb from last year, in hopes that they’d give up on their project and use the lovely drawn stuff.  Nope – when I got in there today, about a week and a half later, they had 3 more good size pieces of comb built with connecting pieces too.  So today I needed to cut off those pieces of comb (using some smoke to persuade most of the bees to get off of it) and rubberband them into empty frames.  The bees will fix up the comb and attach it to the frame so it doesn’t fall out when the bands eventually fail.  I felt like a real beekeeper – and I didn’t get stung either!

And speaking of bees.  This weekend I go and get my package of bees to replace the colony that died.  I think I have their new home already and waiting for them, but I should check on it this evening.  New bees are a sure sign that spring is here to stay.first asparagus

Another sure sign is asparagus!   We had our first taste last week – looks like we’ll be able to have it with dinner tomorrow night too.  After that it will start coming in fast and furious and we’ll eventually be sick of it. My husband will pickle some, I’m sure.  I think I should freeze some too – we can make some asparagus soup this winter with it.

This year, because I’m reading more blogs from around the country I’m more aware of how much earlier spring comes to some parts of the country and then again, how some parts aren’t anywhere near where we are now.  It is the time of year when spring doesn’t just mosey along but instead sprints ahead.  One day there are barely any buds on the tree, the next there are blossoms.  One day the bees have a little extra errant comb, a week later there is 2 frames worth.  I wish my own life weren’t so hectic so I could sit back and watch it all happen.


Signs of Spring

March 20, 2010

March 20, 2010 – the first day of spring.  It is presently 39 degrees and that threatens to be the high for the day with a rain/snow mix expected later – but by Tuesday it will be back in the 50’s – so it really is spring.

cropped cardinal in a treeYesterday (when it was still officially winter but the high was in the upper 60s) I took some pictures of signs of spring around the property.


The cardinals have been out all winter – but I think this one was in search of a mate yesterday.  He was singing up a song.

  DSCF7511 DSCF7510

The llamas were enjoying the sunshine and the increasing amount of green grass – much preferred over dry hay.




assorted pollen

I, of course, spent some time with the bees.  There were plenty out on the porch, cleaning the porch, bringing out the dead (I watched two bees fly off with dead bees – I was surprised how far away they would take the body – further than I could see them), and bringing in pollen.  The pollen is in the pollen baskets on the sides of the bees back legs – they look like little yellow flotation devices.  Look carefully in this picture and you’ll see two types of pollen – a light yellow from the maple trees and a bright orange from the crocuses.  [You should be able to click on the picture to see it bigger.]


Here’s a maple branch in flower. maple flower



And crocuses.crocus

The daffodils are starting to bloom too.  DSCF7521

These are my early bloomers.  They start short but will grow while blooming.  





My friend at Nyack Backyard knows garliceverything that is coming up in her garden (or she fakes it well).  I know this is garlic – because I marked each clove I planted (note the orange flag). If I’m too slow to harvest the garlic mid-summer it is very hard for me to find the heads if I haven’t marked their location when I plant them.  



DSCF7518And finally, the surest sign of spring…  No, not huge moles, a project involving dirt. We (that would be my husband and an electrician friend) are running a new electric line out to the barn.






Has spring sprung for you yet?