Monthly Archives: April 2010

Woodland Wildflowers

The woods behind our house is a beautiful sight this time of year, awash in woodland wildflowers.  Different varieties of wildflowers carpet large areas and this year they seem particularly abundant.

I found a great website to help me put a name to these faces at  Check it out if you are trying to identify any wildflowers in the northern zones, as they literally have hundreds listed both by color and name.

This first pink beauty that is bursting everywhere, is definitely Claytonia virginica, or Virginia Spring Beauty.

Aren’t these delicate flowers absolutely gorgeous?  I want to grow them in my garden! Continue reading

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Re-Queening a Hive

Our first bump in the road with the bees this season was to lose one of the queens from our two new packages of bees.  I went to inspect them last weekend to look for signs that the queens were alive and healthy.  Looking for either eggs or bee brood is the best way to determine if a queen is present, other than actually finding the queen (which is not that easy).

During our first summer with the bees, I never personally worked the hive.  It was always Jesse and one of the kids doing the beekeeping and me standing nearby taking an excessive amount of pictures.  So, I have absolutely no experience looking for eggs or brood.  But because Jesse is away for work, I was left with no other choice.

While inspecting the first hive, I could not find any sign of a queen – no eggs or brood.  My lack of experience caused me to doubt myself and wonder if I was just missing something.  I put the frames back in and moved on to the second hive.  After pulling out the second frame, I immediately noticed brood in the cells.  They look like little white worms.  My husband tells me they are not worms, they are larva.  But they sure look like worms to me…

Anyhow, finding the signs in the second hive was both good news and bad news.  It meant that I was capable of finding what I was looking for and that it existed in that hive.  The bad news was that it meant the queen in the first hive was dead.  For added assurance, I asked our beekeeper mentor and friend, Paul, to come and check that hive too.  He confirmed that there was no sign of a queen.  It is hard to say what happened to her.  She could have been squished when we were shifting frames around or sometimes the bees simply just do not like the new queen and “ball” her, which smothers her.

I called our bee supplier and he said he could have a new queen for me in a couple of days.  Last night I went and picked her up.  I had to drive about 30 miles one way to his residence to get her. As I was driving, it occurred to me how ridiculous it seemed to be driving that far to pick up one bug.  Without that one bug, however, the hive is a complete loss.

Once I returned home, I suited up and headed out to the hives with our youngest.  (He took these pictures, so pardon the blurriness 🙂 ).

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Township Cleanup Day

Every spring in Minnesota, townships have a spring cleanup day when residents can bring in various items to dispose of, including old appliances, electronics, mattresses, batteries, tires, scrap metal, etc.  The township charges a fee for some of the items, but allow disposal of a limited number of items free of charge.

In celebration of our township’s cleanup day this year, we decided to resume the barn project and tear out the cattle stanchions and miscellaneous piping to haul in for scrap metal disposal.

We have owned our farm for a decade now and we have never done anything with the inside of the barn, besides stash things that do not belong anywhere else.  Prior to us purchasing the place, many years had passed since any animals occupied the barn. Needless to say, it is a real disaster.

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The Asparagus Awakens

I was so delighted when I walked out into my vegetable garden today and found this…

My first spear of asparagus for the season!   I picked the tall one and brought it in the house, cooked it up, and ate it with my dinner.  This was the only hill that has emerged so far.  I’m not sure when I harvested my first asparagus last year, but I know it was not this early.  But spring this year has been wonderful for gardens due to the mild weather and abundant sunshine.

After cutting back the old growth from last season about a week ago, we gently tilled around the hills of asparagus to reduce some of the weeds.  Each spring we top dress the asparagus with compost and fertilize it lightly.  The warm days and sunshine heat the soil up once it is uncovered and the spears start to push through.  Last winter we lost a few hills of asparagus that we replaced.  We are hoping that they all made it this year, but it is too early to tell.

A few weeks ago, on March 31st, I also planted my first vegetable seeds of the season – spinach and a mild mesculum mix.  This was a full two weeks earlier than in 2009.  At the beginning of this week, I noticed the seeds have already sprouted.  We should be enjoying some fresh salads with baby greens in a few weeks!


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A Delicate Relationship

Our dog Sofie and our younger cat Nina have what I would describe as a “delicate” relationship.  At times, they seem to be the best of friends.  Nina feels comfortable enough to come and settle in next to Sofie on her bed in the evening.  Sofie, albeit grudgingly, allows her to share the space.

Nina seems to have no fear of the dog.  Sometimes when they are outdoors, the cat will jump out from behind something and attack the dog.  And Sofie is usually very patient and even playful with Nina in return.

But sometimes things change quickly from playing to getting a little rough.

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All the Way from Chico, California…

Our package bees arrived last night after a long and harrowing trip from sunny Chico, California, to the cool weather of Minnesota.  Their arrival was delayed a day after they were temporarily stranded in Wyoming due to a snow storm.  Our bee supplier, who lives only about 15 minutes from our home, received 800 packages of bees from the truck carrying around 2,400 packages (about $100,000 worth of bees!).  These are some of the pallets sitting in his yard when we arrived.

Although most of the bees were inside the packages, there were several “hitch-hikers” flying around too.  You can see some of them on top of the packages.

I was hesitant to approach the crates to take pictures, but the bee guy reassured me it was safe.

They won’t hurt you.  Come closer.  They’re good girls.”

So I bravely told our son to go over by the bees so I could take his picture.  🙂

Once we got the bees home, it was time to install them in their new homes.  Jesse sprayed them with sugar syrup to slow them down and make them easier to shake out of the package.

He was not wearing any protective gear because we only have two bee suits and both of the boys wanted to help.

Our youngest….

Our oldest…

After spraying them with the sugar-water, Jesse first removed the queen from the package.  She is in a separate little cage inside the package.  Her attendant bees stuck close to her.

Time to shake the bees out of their package and into the hive.

The bees explore their new digs and after shaking the majority of the bees out of the package, they released the queen down in hive.  She was quickly surrounded by her attendant bees.

Because it is early in the season and no pollen is yet available for the bees, we are providing them with some supplemental food in the form of pollen patties (on right).

We are also feeding them a sugar syrup mixture to get them through the next few weeks until the first crops are available (usually dandelions).  The feeding bucket has tiny holes that drips the liquid out when inverted on top of the top board.

Notice that Jesse ended up having our youngest hand over the bee suit after being stung on the head!  Turns out the bees were a little cranky after being banged around and dumped out of their package and into the hive.  I would not be surprised if they were also a little upset about being relocated from warm and sunny California to Minnesota.  That would make me crabby too.

The installation of the second hive went a little smoother and by the time we finished it was almost completely dark.  It is best to install the bees at night so that they can acclimate to the hive for several hours before the worker bees take off to forage.

Here is the queen for our second hive.

After putting the queen into the hive, Jesse carefully replaced the remaining frames being very careful not to squish the queen.

The bees are now installed into their hives and ready to start their work today.  We are hopeful for a successful beekeeping season with healthy and productive bees!

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Bee Students

Saturday we attended a course entitled “Beekeeping in Northern Climates” at the University of Minnesota.  Dr. Marla Spivak and scientist Gary Reuter from the Department of Entomology taught the course.  There were about 160 people in attendance (the interest in beekeeping has dramatically spiked in recent years).  It was a very informative course and we came away feeling like we learned several ways to improve our beekeeping this year.  Below are a few of the highlights.

Wintering Bees

After the loss of our first bee colony last winter (described here), some of the most pertinent information for us was on successfully wintering a hive in our cold Minnesota climate.  The first tip that we learned was that a larger bee population would increase the odds of the colony to survive through the winter. Wintering with 2 brood chambers in Minnesota is possible, but the UofMn recommends the use of 3 brood chambers to increase the colony population and honey stores. We will definitely increase from 2 to 3 brood chambers to improve our odds next winter.

Bottom two boxes are the larger brood chambers, and the smaller boxes are honey supers. We will have them fill three brood chambers before we add honey supers this year..

Jesse believes that moisture build-up due to insufficient ventilation was the primary cause of the colony failure this winter. The dead bees were black and wet when we opened the hive in February. There were also honey stores still remaining in the hive. We learned that the UofMn recommends drilling a 1 inch diameter hole 3 inches from the bottom edge of the hive body. The hole is normally plugged, but in the winter the hole in the top brood chamber should be left open for ventilation. Another recommended practice is to place a piece of “buffalo board” over the inner cover to help draw the moisture out of the hive, and one flap of the hive protector should be tucked along the hive to create more space for air flow.

Disease and Pest Control

It was very interesting and refreshing to learn that the UofMn is promoting that beekeepers move away from using chemicals and antibiotics in their operations, except as a last resort. Dr. Spivak believes that over-treatment of the bees has led to poor natural resistance and the bacteria, viruses, and pests have become resistant to these treatments. For example, Terramycin is a common antibiotic that research has shown is becoming ineffective at treating American Foulbrood (AFB). Instead, the UofMn is advocating that better results can be achieved by improved management techniques and using bees bred to exhibit hygienic behavior.

Some of the management techniques we will follow after attending this class are: (1) replacing brood combs every 5 years; (2) shake, requeen, and burn comb if AFB is detected;  (3) order MN hygienic queens next year; (4) use the 2 hive horizontal rotating method to keep our colonies strong and young queens; and (5) buy Varroa mite traps for our hives to improve colony health.

Our bee supplier called today to tell us our packages of bees will be arriving some time this week.  After attending this class, we are even more excited to start our second season of beekeeping!

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