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Archive for the tag “bee hives”

Bees please

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Honeybee swarm; about the size of a football.

One Wednesday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, as I was crunching through a gnarly document at work and trying to get things buttoned up for a planned couple days off work, a coworker who knows I keep bees sent me an IM asking if I knew anyone who could come get a bee swarm at her brother’s house. Um, yeah! I quickly responded: ME! She sent me a photo and details: her brother lived a couple towns over, about 15 miles from my home, and the swarm was only 6 feet off the ground, according to her SIL. I had been planning to stay late and work on the document from hell, but even if I stayed four more hours, it wouldn’t make much difference with this doc.  So I left at 5:30 and rushed home to get my bee gear.

I put my 6-foot ladder in the car, a cardboard box, some duct tape, some bungie cords, baling twine, a hive box and lid (in case I could just dump them directly in), some lemongrass oil, my bee veil, and my Rottweiler (Daisy wasn’t about to be left behind!). I got there just as it was getting dark, and went back to look. It was a nice size cluster – not too large – and only about 6 feet up on a branch I could easily snip with my pruners. No need for most of the stuff I’d brought, but that’s okay. I didn’t even suit up; I just positioned the cardboard box under the swarm, and snipped. Done. I should have suited up. I got dinged in the nose, and a few very angry bees flew around me as I got the lid on the box and started taping. It seemed they were finding a hole out, so I kept going with the duct tape until finally they were secure. I’m sure my coworker’s brother thought I was a little nuts as I taped and taped and taped and taped. They were bees, not wolverines. The nose sting wasn’t too horrible, but as I drove home I could feel that one must have gotten me on the ear, too. Ah well.

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Installing the swarm into the hive box.

It was after dark when I got home, so I left them in the box for the night, on top of the hay bales in the garage. In the morning (thankfully I’d already planned to take the day off!) I got everything set up and dumped them in. (This time I did put my bee veil/jacket on.)  It wasn’t as easy as a bee package install, but went pretty well nonetheless. The branch I’d snipped went into the hive box with them (they were still clustered on it) and I put everything back together as soon as I got the bulk of them secured into the hive. Then it was time to sit back and wait, with fingers crossed that they liked the hive and would stay.

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Now for everyone to settle down and figure out where to go (and hopefully Queenie’s inside the hive!).

Later that afternoon the sun was out and they looked happy, flying in and out and getting acquainted with their surroundings. And three days later, it looked like they planned to stay and were setting up house! I was thrilled! After five years of beekeeping, I feel like a real beekeeper now, having caught my first swarm. It had to be the easiest swarm catch on record but you just never know.

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Package bees on their way home with me.

This past Wednesday I picked up my package bees. I’d ordered them before I’d heard about the swarm, and briefly thought about cancelling the order to save money, and to avoid contributing to the practice of buying package bees (I saw a YouTube video once of how they are packaged, and it’s brutal), but I really want two hives going, and with any luck this year is the year I’ll learn how to split a hive, and not be so dependent on buying bees from others who raise them.

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Just about ready to open it up and get them installed.  There are a LOT of bees in there – probably the largest package of bees I’ve ever gotten.

I got the package after work, so it was 7 p.m. before I got things ready for them. I half thought of waiting until the next day to install, but decided to go ahead with it. The sooner they’re in a hive the better for them. I put on my bee jacket (with netted hat or veil to protect my head (face and eyes!) from bee stings), even though package bees are notoriously docile (so are swarms – ha!) and dumped them in the hive. I got these bees from a local hardware store only a mile and a half from my house (so no half hour drive with 15,000 bees in the car with me) and when I talked to the owner, himself a beekeeper, he said they would be 4 pound packages.  I figured he meant 3 pound, which is the norm, and indeed, my receipt when I paid for them said “3# package bees,” but I have to say, there were a LOT of bees in that box.  Maybe it was because they were obviously so much healthier than last year’s package, which, frankly, was half dead when I got it (and had an unusual amount of fully dead bees in there).  This year it seemed like the cage was magic, I kept pouring them out and it seemed like they just never stopped. It was wonderful!  Finally, as civil twilight moved into nautical twilight, I had all of them out of there that I could get out, and the queen in her cage attached to a frame inside the hive. There were a few small clusters still hanging onto the inside of the box, so I just put the box on top of the hive for the night.  They were still there in the morning, but by the time I got home from work that night, the cage was empty (and not a single dead bee to be seen!).

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They settled immediately and seemed to know they were home.

The first couple of days after installation were chilly and wet, but they were still out flying more than I expected.  I let the queen out of her cage the second night and she is beautiful. I’d waited, due to last year’s fiasco. I was never sure what happened, but on my first inspection of that hive, a week or so after installation, I saw queen cells. Meaning, the bees were already replacing the queen that came with them. Not good. I’d done the old “candy plug” in the queen cage when I installed that one, replacing the cork with a piece of marshmallow. The theory is that by the time the bees eat through the candy, they’re bonded with the queen. The plug had fallen out before I finished installing them, so she was loose immediately. Which, frankly, shouldn’t be a problem. The bees love their queen. My guess is she was one of the half dead bees in that package (probably due to overheating – hundreds of packages are hauled up from California in a trailer, and it was hot that week…).  She obviously lived long enough to lay some eggs, and the hive replaced her as soon as they could. But that put us back another month, with regard to the new queen maturing to a laying queen, and then we headed into a drought summer, which made for some hard work to find flowers and nectar. A lot of area beekeepers had bad losses this year. When I realized my hive was dead in early spring (and I’m pretty sure they were probably dead by December) there was a shockingly small amount of honey left in the hive. It hadn’t been robbed, either.

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“Are you my mama?”  I’d released the queen inside the hive, but these guys wouldn’t give up the cage, where her scent still lingered.

I plan to take better care of these hives, monitoring better and getting the hives better protected.  I’ve taken steps towards the second – I’ve moved the bee yard to the garden area (fallow again this year) and closer to the house.  I also have them up off the ground.  They’re temporarily set up on top of dog crates (truly the Swiss Army knife of dog equipment) and I’m trying to figure out how I’ll set them up permanently – benches, picnic table, bee barn…I’ll be doing some Google searches on this topic to see what will work (and that I am capable of building by myself) and get something together in the next month or so.

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My little bee  yard amongst the nettles and on makeshift hive stands.  It will be a lot cuter in another month or two.

I tend to be somewhat lackadaisical about regular inspections. It’s so disruptive to the bees, and I hate opening up their house just so I can see if they have brood and honey stores. But maybe if I’d done so with last year’s hive, I’d have realized they didn’t have much in the way of honey stores. I don’t know that feeding them would have helped, as it was a challenged hive from the beginning, but I only did about three abbreviated inspections in total, which isn’t enough.

20160430_113959This past weekend the weather was picture perfect, warm and sunny and true bee weather.  And both hives are loving it.  The swarm hive is doing well; they are making a lot of honey already and while it seems like they aren’t drawing out much comb, I have to remember how small they were to start. This was obvious when I got the package bees, which had probably four times the number of bees to start (and the package bees are guzzling the sugar syrup I’m giving them – a quart a day compared to the swarm hive’s half pint or so).  The swarm hive is healthy, and even if I haven’t seen the queen (I rarely do) I see larvae, and they are doing what they should be doing.  Happy bees = happy beekeeper.

 

{Summa summa summa time*}

Two of 20 or 30 mature Big Leaf Maples; these are in the sheep pasture.

Two of 30 or so mature big leaf maples on the property; these are in the sheep pasture.

So those trees I was grumbling about back in April? Yeah, I’m full of gratitude for them right now. In a spring and summer of weird weather in North America, the Pacific Northwest has been unusually hot and dry since early May. We normally have a pretty soggy spring, with June usually being gray, if not wet, and June Gloom, or Juneuary being common descriptors for the wet, and often cold, weather. This year, though, summer arrived a full month early and has been setting records all the way. We’ve been roasting since June, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it. And, yes, the shade from the trees has been welcome. My roast chicken fetish has suffered a bit (hard to muster the resolve to fire up the oven to 400 degrees for 90 minutes—the house is like a little hot box from about 4 p.m. on), but I’m still chowing on the watermelons.

Sheep at dusk.

Sheep at dusk.

The beasts are doing well in the heat, what with plenty of shade to hang out in. And even if I didn’t have too much shade (per my lament for grass growing back in April), the property is dried up and the grass has turned brown due to lack of moisture. I’ve been watering some, but it’s a battle lost long ago (the paradox being that within two weeks of no rain, the ground is dried up and rock hard) and I mostly do it to help cool the place in the evenings. I have to be careful with the watering so I don’t run the well tank dry. I accidentally do this a few times every year and it freaks me out every time. The first time I did it, the first summer I was here, I thought the well had run dry (or the pump had broken down) and was cobbling together a plan before I called the well repair guy to come take a look (it was late on a Sunday night). I turned off the faucet to the sprinkler I had going (mostly to cool things off rather than water the dead grass) and within 15 minutes the water was running in the house again. Lesson learned. I’ve done it a few times since, and it’s always a 3-second panic before I remember. Now I set a timer for watering; I time the watering AND the recharging period, so I’m not overtaxing the system.

Bees drinking from the pond. It's perfect for them; with all the slop and vege growing in it, they can drink safe from drowning.

Bees drinking from the pond. It’s perfect for them; with all the slop and vege growing in it, they can drink safe from drowning.

I keep the little slop pond filled; it’s the main source of water for my bees, and of course the dogs’ constant slopping in there to cool off. Pal will lie down and roll to his side to get good and wet, then go roll in ecstasy in the pile of hog fuel. Nice. I also keep a little kiddie pool scrubbed and filled for the dogs (basically a giant water bowl for them, 031the chickens, and the sheep—you’d think it was the only water around for miles, given its popularity as a trough). I stepped in when it was clean and full recently and yelped with the cold. It was obvious that this water was fresh from the subterranean Snoqualmie Valley.

A recent day trip took me to the San Juan Islands.  This is Mount Baker seen from the ferry on the way home.

A recent day trip took me to the San Juan Islands. This is Mount Baker seen from the ferry on the way home, and had me feeling blessed to live in such a paradise.

Not much is getting done in the way of chores – too hot for housework is one of my favorite excuses – but thankfully, being in a maritime climate, it does cool down at night. I open the doors and windows, and employ a fan, and by midnight or so, the house has cooled nicely. I’m leaving the back door open all night (with a baby gate to keep the dogs in—otherwise they would be out barking at snipes all night long), and do the same with the chicken coop, so the hens have a chance to cool down. But for the most part all the critters are doing well. The sheep stay in the shade, and drink plenty of water, and the chickens take dust baths in the hot sun and go through gallons of water. The dogs and cats lay around all day, for the most part. The Setter boys being a skootch more active than Daisy, who just lounges in one of her many dirt pits. Pal runs after birds, and Farley insists I throw his ball for him, though he paces himself with regards to returning it for another toss.

Eloise complaining about her captivity from my office (behind glass paneled door).

Eloise complaining about her captivity from my office (behind glass paneled door).

The only problem, honestly, has been the cats. The two youngsters, and especially Madeline, are quite the hunters, and keeping them inside once I open the doors to cool the house requires locking them in my office. For the entire night. That’s not really that big of a deal (Eloise would argue otherwise, and has shredded paperwork I’ve left on my desk), but it does require some management. Now that the birds are no longer singing (sniff – I miss my Swainson’s seranades in the evenings), and the nesting season winding up, I’ve relented and let them outside. Madeline is impossible to get back inside, as her feral nature takes over once she crosses the threshold. She stays out all night, and sometimes for a full 24 or 36 hours. I find dead mice scattered around in the morning (the chickens love these) and a dead bat recently, too. This saddened me even as it gave me the willies. It was a tiny little thing, no bigger than the tip of my thumb, with tiny needles for teeth. And this afternoon I found a dead towhee in the front yard, which upset me nearly to tears, and I cursed myself for not locking Madeleine up permanently. When it rains at night she’ll come in readily, but in that case it will be another month. I will hopefully get her inside tonight (we’re coming up on 36 hours out now) and am locking her up in a dog crate if I have to.

Happy hive.

Happy hive.

The bees are happy, and I’m pleased with the front-of-hive activity I’m seeing. I opened it up for an inspection a few weekends ago and was pleased to see plenty of brood in the few frames I looked at. The bees were very docile—unusually so—and I kept it very brief. As soon as I saw the brood, I pretty much stopped. I’m always so paranoid about squishing the queen by accident, and it was hot, so I just plopped on another hive box so they could build up, and will wait for a cooler day to do a more thorough inspection. I want to do a split – start a new hive by moving some frames of brood into a new hive, but am squeamish about it. I don’t trust that they’ll figure out how to make a queen, so will probably buy a queen to put in there. If I do it. I’ll have to feed all winter too, with it being so late in the season (and the drought taking its toll on flowering plants of all kinds). We shall see.

*Summertime

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy relaxing in one of her more elaborate dirt pits.  Happy dog.

Gratuitous cuteness: Daisy relaxing in one of her more elaborate dirt pits, dug into the hillside. Happy dog. Heart her!

I heart my bees!

March musings

It rained hard all day today, with only a few breaks in the downpour.  I woke up late due to the time change (Spring forward) and the hour lost, so it was officially 9:45 before the dogs ate breakfast. Crawling back into bed for a lazy Sunday morning read with tea seemed to be the best start to the dreary day. I’m again thankful for the giant skylight I had installed last year with my roof replacement; even on this cloudy, grey day my bedroom is bathed in light. I’m finishing a great book by a woman named Lynn Reardon about the rescue and rehab she created for ex-racehorses in Texas. It’s called Beyond the Homestretch and was one of those books at the library that was pulled out for highlighting in their shelf-end “interesting picks.” (Librarys ROCK!) It’s an enjoyable read, with the highs and lows associated with rescue work of any kind but without preachiness or crusading-speak (a turn off), and damned funny in places too. An ex-accountant, Ms. Reardon is a terrific writer as well as horse rescuer.

I looked at my chore list, deciding what I should do first. Much of it is the ongoing stuff, with a lot of seasonal additions as well. I picked up my (bee)hive boxes yesterday, and stopped off and got a quart of paint for painting them. The paint color is called Shocking Green, and it’s sort of a neon green with a hint of chartreuse mixed in. I hope it won’t be too garish, sitting out by the garden (I plan to embellish with some stenciled or hand-painted vines and flowers – for my stylin beehive), and even more important, I hope my bees like it. They’re due to arrive in mid-April. I ordered four pounds, which is the queen and several thousand of her workers. It was only $10 more for four pounds versus three pounds, and though I know most of the experienced beekeepers say the extra pound of workers doesn’t make that much of a difference, I figured the more workers the better, to start with. I mean, they’re already handicapped with me as a new beekeeper, so the more advantages I can give them, the better chances they’ll have. I’ll have to bone up on my YouTube vids of how to transfer them from their traveling cage into their new home. I purchased my bee veil and gloves, too. I got a veil that’s part of a half-suit, rather than the full suit (where you look like you’re going out to battle haz-mat or infectious disease), with the most important component being the veil itself. A body sting is doable, but a face sting, and especially an eye-sting, could be very bad. I can’t remember the last time I was stung by a honeybee, and even my last yellowjacket sting has probably been more than a decade ago. Hopefully my Carniolan bees will do well for me and be easy to work with.

Sheep shearing was last week and though it got done it was a bit of a rodeo. We did Cinnamon first, since she’s the wildest, and it set off a chain reaction of panic with all the rest.  Thankfully Eifion, an experienced shearer who comes all the way from Wales each year, has done this a time or two, and was able to catch and wrassle each one of them in turn.  It was a good lesson though, and I do plan to build at least one stall in the confinement area (right now it’s just an open shed) so I can enclose them for this and other reasons, as needed.   

After shearing, they all look nekkid and a bit chilly, in Cinnamon’s case (for some reason she’s the only one I’ve noticed shivering).  She was so glorious with her full fleece, and now she looks gangly and awkward.  And little Pebbles is even tinier than I thought.  I managed to catch her and pick her up the other day (she was up on the porch chasing the gimpy hen, which she loves to do); she’s maybe 50 pounds, 60 pounds max.  Of all of them Cinnamon had the nicest fleece – clean and nice and crimpy, rather than the tangled and burr-filled fleece of Pebbles (whose fleece is definitely the softest), or the choppy, broken fleeces of the boys.  All three of the boys have been itching for two months and rubbing against everything.  Bo and especially Curly were using their horns to dig at itchy spots on their backs, and completely ruined the integrity of the fleece (normally it should roll out as a single unit after it’s been sheared off, but theirs is broken and filled with vegetable matter (VM) to boot.  I still need to process the fleece before the dampness in the garage ruins them entirely.  It’s been so miserably wet and chilly recently that I’ve been reluctant to go out and skirt them, never mind get them washed and ready for further processing.  From there, I’ll be felting slippers for Christmas presents (tee hee).  And working on making sure next year’s fleeces are in tip top shape.  

My other sheepy news is the hay feeding solution I recently discovered.  Ever since they’ve been in their confinement area (to keep them off the pasture during the winter months, so the pasture has a chance to recover) I’ve been feeding grass hay.  I do let them out to run around on nice weekend days (and it doesn’t look like today will be one of them).  They look longingly into the pasture, but roam around and browse the grass and vegetation around the house and property with obvious enjoyment.  The rest of the time, though, it’s hay.  I knew I’d be feeding hay, and knew of the price per bale (anywhere from $13 to $22, depending on feed store and the hay shipment itself – where it’s from, how heavy the bale, etc.), but had no idea I’d be going through a bale a week.  That’s more than I spend on dog and cat food each week!  

I was feeding them on the ground, as I hadn’t found a feeder that fit all my criteria: easy to install, low waste, reduced chance of VM in fleece, and minimal “real estate” used in my small set up.  Of course feeding them on the ground meant that roughly one third of each bale was ending up as bedding as they walked through it and dragged it around.  I purchased a wall mount hay feeder at the feed store and realized as soon as I got it home that it wasn’t going to work (it wasn’t cheap, either), so returned it the next week.  I had an old hay net feeder I purchased years ago as a prop in a holiday-themed cubicle decoration contest at work (I won), so tried that.  The mesh was so large they emptied it overnight, much of it ending up on the ground.  I checked Craigslist regularly and scoured the Internet for suitable feeders, coming up with slow feeders for horses (too big and too expensive) and a fellow in Virginia who was no longer making his perfectly designed sheep/goat hay feeder.  Then one day on a visit to Craigslist I found an ad placed by Equinets.  I contacted the proprietor via the website, explaining my need.  She lives close to where I work and we discussed what might work.  I picked up a small and a medium net a couple of weeks ago, and installed them the following weekend.  It’s like a miracle.  Within one day I knew I’d found the solution.  

Not only is the waste next to zero, it’s also provided them with hay 24/7, as is natural, rather than the loud baaing for food every time they saw me or heard the front door open, and the attendant feeding frenzy of me coming out with several flakes of hay three times a day.  They are quiet and content, and everybody gets to eat when they want to eat (the girls were sometimes bullied away from the hay when I fed it on the ground, which meant I had to put down multiple piles, which increased the waste ratio).  I rarely hear them baaing now (though they are still trying to train me to give them grain on demand) and are often all lying down, quietly chewing cud when I go out there to check on them.  I fill the two nets once a day – the smaller one is usually nearly empty, and the larger one still about half full – and right now am still going through hay at about the same rate, but the good thing is it’s not as bedding!  In fact, I’m considering buying some straw for bedding now, to absorb manure and urine and they still have some cushion after I’ve cleaned up their waste. Filling them once a day eliminates that chore in the mornings, too, when I’m often already rushed to make it to work.  Now I can just replenish the nets in the evening, make sure their water bucket is full, and in the morning just check to make sure they’re all content and well before I leave for work.

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