Category Archives: Bees

Signs of Life? Or Not.

We were blessed with a beautiful spring day here in Minnesota with temperatures reaching into the 50’s.  Finally!

It was a gorgeous day to get outside and start checking for signs of life around the farm.

Since the snow finally started melting, Jesse decided to make his way out to the beehives to check on them.  After 50 plus days this winter of high temperatures not even reaching zero degrees Fahrenheit, our expectations were very low about the likelihood that our bees survived.  When our bee supplier called in January, we decided to play it safe and order two more nucs of bees to install this spring to make sure we were not left without any bees.  As it turns out, we made the right decision!

1

We knew it was a bad sign this afternoon when Jesse pulled the covers off the hives and we saw the carnage of dead bees on the inside hive cover.  There was also an eerie silence that was a tell-tale sign that the bees had not survived.  It was the same scene when he opened the second hive.

No survivors. No signs of life.

We will start fresh with new bees this spring.  Again.

2

Our snow cover was melting quickly today with the warm temperatures.  The turned soil is starting to reveal itself in the plowed field next to our house.  The neighbor planted a bean crop last summer and plans to re-seed an alfalfa crop this spring.  This will delight our new bees.

3Wherever we wander on the farm, including out to the bees,we can always count on Sofie being somewhere close by.  She is a constant sign of life on the farm, even in the bleakest of times.  Dogs are such comforting companions.

4After visiting the bees, I trudged through the heaps of piled snow to get to the edge of my vegetable garden to take a picture.  With a solid foot of snow remaining within the perimeter, there is sadly no sign of life here.  It is hard to imagine that in a few short months this will be green and brimming with new growth and possibilities.
5

The warm temperatures today did manage to stir awake the juices of the maple trees.  We ventured in to the woods and discovered the first signs of the sap running.  Although it was not a very productive day (only about 1 gallon), it is a start.

6And after this long winter, I will celebrate any sign of life that reveals itself around here!
-Lynell

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Bees, Daily life, Maple Syrup

Shades of Honey – Honey Harvest 2013

Some of you right remember that we started over with our bees this season after a roller coaster of a year last summer. (See my post:  Starting Over Again – Bees 2013). We purchased 2 nucs and installed several old brood frames that had pretty good honey and pollen stores from the previous year. With the honey and pollen already in the brood frames and the dandelions nearly starting to bloom, we decided that we could forego feeding the bees sugar syrup and pollen patties to get them off the ground.

Unfortunately, we had a very long cold and wet spring that kept the bees inside the hive instead of out foraging and being productive. July was a good weather month but August was very hot and dry, which are also not very productive conditions for the bees. We have learned from past experiences that the hives have a higher chance of surviving our harsh Minnesota winter if we have them fill 3 deep brood boxes before adding honey supers. Both hives grew into their 3 brood boxes in June and were ready for their honey supers a couple of weeks before the basswood trees bloomed. One hive was a little more productive and filled 2 honey supers and the other filled only 1 honey super.

honeyharvest1

In past years, I have been frustrated with the difficulty of un-capping the frames when the honey supers were loaded with 10 frames, as not all the frames were drawn to a full depth that would allow for the cappings to extend beyond the frames. When this happens we have to use a manual capping scratcher that does not open the honey cells as well for spinning. It also damages the comb much more, which requires extra effort from the bees to repair the damage the following year. When the bees are drawing and fixing comb, they are not out foraging and collecting honey. So I decided to try using only 9 frames in each honey super so that there was more room to fully draw the comb past the frames.

honeyharvest2

This approach worked quite nicely. See how easily the cappings are removed with the hot knife? This method does create more cappings, but leaving the cappings in the un-capping tubs for a couple of days was enough for them to drip clean and leave us with almost another gallon of honey. The extra cappings will also be useful in creating more candles.

honeyharvest3

It is so much fun to watch the honey flow from the spinning tank and into the double strainer. Although the entire process can only be described as a sticky mess, it is well worth the efforts.

honeyharvest5

The final results from the 3 honey supers was about 6 gallons of honey. Not a great year, but much better than last year for sure!honeyharvest6

One thing that immediately caught our eye as we started to do the bottling process, was the very light color of the honey this year compared to earlier years. I would typically classify our honey as light amber (the jar on the right below was from last year) and this year I would have to say there is no amber color at all.

I cannot conclusively say why the big change, but here are some possible factors. This is the first year that we had only Carniolian breed, previous years have been either both hives Italian breed or one of each breed. The long cold wet spring could have limited access to some plants, and additionally the hot dry late summer period could have also limited some plants. This spring we also plowed under a dwindling alfalfa field that was adjacent to the hives. I will consult my local beekeeping guru and see if he can share some thoughts on this as well.

honeyshades1

Below is a really strange jar that caught my attention. I had a half full jar of the previous year (darker) honey, and decided to scrape the last bit of new (lighter) honey into the same jar. Surprise, surprise…the next morning the light honey was on the bottom and they stayed separated! Obviously the new honey is more dense (less moisture) than the old honey, but why didn’t they just blend together?!?!

honeyshades

For that, I do not have any ready answers. Maybe one of you chemistry-minded folks can educate us.

Jesse

1 Comment

Filed under Bees

Starting Over Again – Bees 2013

As I mentioned in an earlier post this winter, we had a roller-coaster of a summer last year with our bees.

After being so thrilled that we had successfully wintered our bees for the first time since starting beekeeping, we were devastated to discover that they had swarmed in May because we waited too long to divide the hives and they became too crowded.  The early spring last year and the warm temperatures moved everything ahead and because of our inexperience, we missed the signs that they were preparing to swarm.

All was not lost however, because when bees swarm they leave behind a portion of the worker bees along with new queen cells, one of which eventually becomes the new queen.  We observed the hives over the next few months and it appeared that things were back on track, they had a new queen, and were rebuilding their population.  Of course, the hives were not nearly as strong as they would have been had they not swarmed, but we knew we would still get a honey harvest.

The honey started flowing and the bees had built up a good amount of supers of honey.  Once again, our optimism for our honey harvest was shattered in October when Jesse went out to the hives to check on them and discovered they had been robbed!  Yes, hives can be robbed by feral bees.  All the frames that the bees had worked so hard to fill all summer long were stripped completely clean, as if they had never had a bit of honey in them.  The other unfortunate effect from robbing, is that the honeybees usually die in the process of defending their hive against the invaders.

Needless to say, we lost both hives of bees and only ended up with a very small amount of honey to harvest…another year of learning about all the things that can go wrong beekeeping.  We have just put in our order for two nucs of bees this spring.  We are not giving up; we’re just starting over again.

So, spring finally arrived and so did our two nucs of bees.  The bees arrived to our supplier on a rainy and dreary Friday afternoon.  Jesse and our daughter went to work getting the hives ready to add the nucs, which are about 5-6 frames of bees with a queen and brood.
bee1

After adding a few frames to each hive of honey from last year’s bees, it was time to get suited up and put the frames in the hive.

bee2

The bees were very riled up and it was a little scary, so I did not stay too long to photograph. I don’t think they enjoyed the ride across the plowed field in the back of the 4-wheeler, even if it was a slow one. 🙂bee3

Our daughter braved the angry bees for the installation of one nuc and only received one sting on her leg.  She decided to let her dad install the other hive.bee4

We have not examined the hive to look for brood, but after about 10 days it was clear that the bees were multiplying and Jesse decided to add another brood box. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and he can take a peek inside soon to see how things are going.

bees5In the meantime, I can tentatively say that things appear to be going well so far this season with the bees.  I know all too well however, that any number of bee disasters might be ahead yet this summer.  We are continuously learning and expanding our knowledge of beekeeping, so I am hopeful that it will be an uneventful beekeeping season.

For any beekeepers out there, how is your season starting out?

Lynell

3 Comments

Filed under Bees

Back to Blogging?

Here I am again, with six months passing and no posts.  Time goes by so fast and life just seems to get in the way of sitting down at the computer to keep our blog updated.  It isn’t because nothing has gone on around here…our summer was just as busy as past ones.  So, since the holiday chaos has passed and the cold temperatures have me trapped indoors, I am feeling inspired to finish some posts about some of our projects around the farm last summer.

The funny thing about blogging is that it is easy to get hung up on putting together the perfect post with great pictures and clever writing.  I have to remind myself that the reason I started this blog was simply to share our experiences and to connect with others who have similar interests, and to create a history of our projects and improvements.  Keeping that in mind, I will just plow forward and try not to worry too much about the details, so bear with me.  🙂

We are well into winter here in Minnesota.  We have had several subzero days in the last week.  Even with the cold temperature and snow on the ground, there are some pretty sights  to behold on the farm.

Have I mentioned how much I love our barn???  No matter the time of year, it is one of the most charming parts of our landscape.

IMG_0629

But anyhow…back to last summer.  We enjoyed three separate home visits by our oldest, the West Point cadet.  He came home during his breaks from his summer military training and it was such a treat to have him around.  As you will see in upcoming posts, we put him to work and he helped us complete some fun projects.

We also had a roller-coaster of a summer with our bees.  After being so thrilled that we had successfully wintered our bees for the first time since starting beekeeping, we were devastated to discover that they had swarmed in May because we waited too long to divide the hives and they became too crowded.  The early spring and warm temperatures moved everything ahead and in our inexperience, we missed the signs that they were preparing to swarm.

All was not lost however, because when bees swarm they leave behind a portion of the worker bees along with new queen cells, one of which eventually becomes the new queen.  We observed the hives over the next few months and it appeared that things were back on track, they had a new queen, and were rebuilding their population.  Of course, the hives were not nearly as strong as they would have been had they not swarmed, but we knew we would still get a honey harvest.

The honey started flowing and the bees had built up a good amount of supers of honey.  Once again, our optimism for our honey harvest was shattered in October when Jesse went out to the hives to check on them and discovered they had been robbed!  Yes, hives can be robbed by feral bees.  All the frames that the bees had worked so hard to fill all summer long were stripped completely clean, as if they had never had a bit of honey in them.  The other unfortunate effect from robbing, is that the honeybees usually die in the process of defending their hive against the invaders.

Needless to say, we lost both hives of bees and only ended up with a very small amount of honey to harvest…another year of learning about all the things that can go wrong beekeeping.  We have just put in our order for two nucs of bees this spring.  We are not giving up; we’re just starting over again.

In the garden, we added two raised beds with blueberry plants, something we have wanted to do for some time.  More on that later…

My perennial garden, particularly my Echinacea (coneflower) plants were hit with yellow asters and I decided to pull every one of them out in trying to rid my garden of the disease.  I was a very sad gardener.

Our vegetable garden was very productive and we enjoyed fresh veggies for months on end.  We decided to forego any preserving this year and to just enjoy the bounty as it ripened.  Now that we are in the depths of winter, I am questioning that decision.  I think we will take the time to do at least a minimal amount this coming season.

Around the first of the year, the seed catalogs started arriving.  I have started pouring over them, marking pages, and making my wish list.  I plan to expand my winter sowing into some annuals and vegetables this spring and am anxious to get started.

DSC_0002Like every other gardening nut out there, I cannot wait to get back out into the gardens and start digging in the dirt.  In the meantime, I will share some of the projects we accomplished last summer.  To be continued…

Lynell

 

4 Comments

Filed under Bees, Daily life, Miscellaneous

March Madness

The strange winter continues here in Minnesota…

On February 29th, only two and a half weeks ago, this is what it looked like outside our window.

Image

The snow started during the night and by morning, we had almost a foot of heavy, wet snow.  School was cancelled and we were officially all “snowed in.”  It was the first snow day of the school year and nobody was complaining around here about staying home.

March rolled in the next day and as quick as it had arrived, all that snow started to melt away.  The temperatures soared and before too long, there was no trace of snow left.

When the temperatures started hitting the upper 60’s and 70’s several days in a row, we started to notice some interesting things happening around the farm.

We checked the bee hives and were happy to see that they are definitely still alive.   This good news means that we have successfully wintered our bees for the first time!  (Most likely due to the warm winter temperatures we have had, rather than our beekeeping skills).

We also noticed the bees were out foraging.  They seemed to like the sap leaking out of the maple trees that we pruned in late February.

Since they are active so early this year and there is little food supply available yet, Jesse decided to start feeding them some sugar syrup to get them through the next month or so.  He also took off the black winter hive covers because of the warm temperatures – we don’t want them to cook in there!  The hives both seem really strong, so we are excited to see how this season turns out.

After a week of continuous March temperatures near or over 70F, we also noticed that my gardens are starting to wake up and spring to life.  These poppies were hiding under the leaf mulch.

My tulips have also decided it is time to make an early appearance.

With our warm weekend temperatures (more 70’s), we spent most of our time outdoors and in the gardens.  Although we realize it is very early in the season by Minnesota standards, we started the process of cleaning up the raspberry patch anyways.

After digging up all the rogue plants to reduce the rows back down to about 12″ wide, we cut our all the old canes and re-strung the wire that holds the plants upright.

We then trimmed all the remaining canes to about chest height, applied a 10-10-10 fertilizer, and lightly tilled along the sides of the rows.  When we get around to it (hopefully within a week or two), we will put down a chopped straw mulch to try controlling weeds.

Since the frost was already out and the soil was so dry (we have had very little snow this winter), Jesse went ahead and tilled the whole garden up.  We like to work it up several times in the spring if possible, before we do the bulk of our planting.

And finally, the last crazy thing we did on this 18th day of March here in Minnesota, was to plant some lettuce (mild mesculun mix) and spinach.  These crops can handle some colder temperatures, so even though I know better, I am taking a risk and giving it a try.

(Last spring, my first planting of lettuce was on May 7th, after a very cold and wet spring.)

So, the madness of this Minnesota winter continues into March.  I’m hoping we have seen the last of snow, but after living here my entire life, I know that just about anything can happen yet this spring.

But whatever happens, I’ll be ready.  I couldn’t be happier to be back out in the gardens.

Hope you are enjoying some March madness wherever you are too!

Lynell

1 Comment

Filed under Bees, Flower, Gardens, Vegetable

Making Beeswax Candles

We have now enjoyed three seasons of beekeeping.  Each year brings new challenges, successes and failures.  It is a constant learning process, which is part of the fascination of beekeeping.  Just when we think we have it figured out, something unexpected happens.  The whole endeavor is a good reminder that, like so many things, no matter how hard we try, we are not in control of the outcome.

Besides the honey that we enjoy all year long, another byproduct of beekeeping is the wax that you collect from uncapping the frames to harvest the honey.  The first two years there was just not enough to do anything with, but we decided after this season that we finally had enough to attempt making candles.

Our storage method for the wax has not been anything elaborate.  After letting the cappings drain for several days to remove as much of the honey as possible, we just placed the cappings in a plastic grocery bag and put it in the pantry.  Each year we just added to the grocery bag.  Here is what our collection of cappings looked like when we started the candle-making process.

The cappings are by no means pure wax.  Mixed in with the wax are plant particles, bee parts, etc.  The challenge is to clean the wax and get it ready for making some lovely beeswax candles.

The first thing we did to prepare the wax was to rinse it under hot water.  We placed the cappings in the nylon mesh bag that we use for draining the honey out of the cappings after harvesting.  The purpose of the rinsing is to try to remove any remaining honey.  Based on the color of the water, it appears that some honey was rinsed away.

After much on-line research, we concluded that the next step was to melt the cappings in a pan filled with some hot water.  Once the cappings were melted, we removed the pan from the heat and let it cool.  The wax rises to the top to harden and most of the miscellaneous particles either settle on the bottom of the pan, or float at the top of the water and then stick to the bottom of the wax.  Using a knife, we scraped away the bottom layer of the wax.

Because the wax still appeared “dirty”, we repeated this process in the hot water two more times.  By the third time, it was finally looking fairly clean after it cooled, with just a few remaining particles present.  We then used a double-boiler to melt the wax.  Beeswax is flammable, so it is safest to use indirect heat for melting.  (And make sure to use an old pan and utensils, because the wax is impossible to remove once you are finished with the project!).

To remove the remaining bits in the melted wax, we took an old nylon and stretched it over a plastic bowl to use as a filter and it worked fabulous!

We had previously ordered candle-making supplies from Mann Lake, Ltd., our favorite beekeeping supply company.  We ordered a votive candle mold, wicking supplies, and small metal discs to put on the bottom of the candles.

To prepare the mold for the wax, we threaded the wick up through the bottom of each mold and held it centered with a bobby-pin.

It was a little tricky pouring the hot wax into the molds.  I think we will look for some type of container with a spout next year to help with the precision when we are pouring.

We were surprised at how quickly the wax cooled and hardened in the molds – they were usually ready in about 30 minutes.  In the meantime, we just left the hot wax in the double-boiler on the stove turned on very low, just enough to keep it liquid.

To remove the candles from the mold only required a little twist of the mold and pulling it out by the wick.  We then just clipped the wick with a scissors and put the bobby-pin back to hold the wick centered for the next pour.

We only had one votive mold so the process of pouring the candles was quite lengthy.  In the end, we ended up with 30 lovely beeswax votive candles.

As with all of our projects, we did research and planning in advance, but had to improvise along the way to try to achieve our desired result.  The candle-making process turned out to be a time-consuming one, partly because we struggled to get the wax clean and also because we only had one mold.  For our next venture in candle-making, we will definitely purchase another mold.  We may try tapers next time.

Based on the amount of time and effort it took to make these 30 votives, I can certainly understand why beeswax candles are costly.    It was a great project for our Christmas break though, and one we all enjoyed.

The sweet smell and slow burn of these will be enjoyed each time we light one in the coming year.

Lynell

8 Comments

Filed under Bees

A Disappointing Honey Harvest

We are in our second year of beekeeping and what a year it has been.  Similar to gardening, the season started off with us full of hope about the potential bounty of honey we would enjoy come fall.  As any gardener knows however, things rarely go as planned when you are dealing with the forces of nature.

Earlier this spring, the boys successfully installed two packages of bees into the hives and we waited to see how the new bees would do.  It was not long before we figured out that one of the hives was failing.  The queen had not survived for some reason and no new brood was present. I installed a new queen to try to help them get established, but she also turned out to be an ineffective queen, mostly laying drones (the worthless males) instead of worker bees (the industrious females).

Our last desperate attempt to save the hive was to get rid of that queen and place a frame with eggs from the functioning hive in the failing one in the hopes that the bees would make a new queen.   Unfortunately, the bees were unsuccessful and the hive was a total loss.

With one hive left, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.  As the summer progressed, it was clear that the remaining hive was not doing as well as the bees did last year.  Periods of cool weather and bouts of rain slowed their progress significantly.

We finally got around to harvesting our honey for the year just recently.

Jesse removed the frames from the honey supers one by one.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Bees