Category Archives: Bees

Bee Update!

The bees are doing great – although they are still waiting for their replacement queen.  Hopefully she will arrive this week.  They busy cleaning out their new hive (I had to dump all the bees that died during shipment into the hive with the live bees, and they have been taking the corpses out and dumping them away from the hive.), drawing wax comb, and pollinating my garden.  Since it’s so early in the season, I haven’t see any other honeybees in the yard yet, so whenever I see a bee, I know it’s one of mine.

They are extremely interesting.  I like to sit a couple of feet from the hive and just watch them come and go.  They don’t appear to mind me being around the hive, which is lovely.

It’s nice timing for them, because our old apple tree is fully in bloom.

I’m also happy that my grapes are just beginning to leaf out.

And the currants have young fruit.

My new vegetable garden in the front yard is struggling a bit, because I have been invaded by root maggots.  It’s really bad; I’ve never had enough maggots before to even notice them.  I’ve lost several of my cabbage and kale seedlings, as well as several onions.  To combat this, I sprayed the garden tonight with beneficial nematodes.  I’ve never used them before, but they are supposed to work wonders against critters like cutworms and root maggots.  I hope so!  It would be lovely to have this problem solved, especially since I’m not willing to use any chemicals.

Second Day with the Bees

I was a little worried this morning, because all the bees were clumped together inside the hive and not moving.  But I think it was just too cool for them to be out and about, because now the sun’s out and it’s warm, the bees are busy flying around and exploring their new home.

They really are gentle bees.  I can walk right up to the hive, and open the observation window in the back, and the bees aren’t bothered.  They do come up and buzz around me, and often one or two will land on my shirt and walk around, but they are clearly not being aggressive.  Hopefully this will continue to be the case, once the new queen arrives, and they start raising brood.

Here’s a video I made of today’s activity:

The bees are so cool.  I’m going to name the queen/hive, so any suggestions?  A front-runner right now is Queen Mab!

The Honeybees are Here!

It took them a full seven days to arrive, which was somewhat worrisome, but the worker bees arrived in great shape.

It was really odd; they came in a wooden box, open on two sides with metal mesh!  You could totally see the bees!  I can only wonder what my mail deliverer thought of this delivery!

We installed the bees into the hive without any trouble.  The bees were flying all around us, but neither of us were frightened at all.  It was fun!  And they were very nice bees…we didn’t get a single sting.  I was too busy to take video, but here’s a video from someone else, showing you the process.

It all went very smoothly – except for one thing.  When I took the queen box out of the package, she was dead.

This is not a good thing, but it’s not a complete tragedy.  I called Charlie, my bee seller, and he is going to ship me out a replacement queen ASAP.  He said the bees will be fine without a queen for a short time; they will get to work building comb and honey.  And he says when I put the new queen in, I’ll get to experience something a lot of people never get to see: how happy the bees are to meet their new queen.  He said they make a special noise and dance, and it’s really quite something!  So I’ll keep you updated on that.  In the meantime, here’s hoping the worker bees are happy in their new hive and settle in and start making honey!

 

Almost a Tragedy (and a warning!)

Today seven of the eight quail chicks almost died.  Let me tell you the story.

I woke up about an hour earlier than I normally do, and it’s so fortunate that I really had to use the bathroom…and then, that I decided it wasn’t really worth going back to bed.  Instead, I came into the living room and checked on the chicks.

Seven of them (all but one) were laying stretched out on their sides, limp and completely cold.  They apparently had left the warmth of the Brinsea Ecoglow Brooder (as they frequently do during the daytime), and had wandered to the opposite end of the brooder box, where they had been unable to find their way back in the dim light.  Two of them were feebly opening and closing their beaks; the rest looked completely dead.  I thought it was probably too late to save any of them.  They were so cold.  They almost felt like they’d been in the fridge.

I picked them up and put them under the Brinsea Brooder, then found the old heat lamp I’d used for the previous hatchlings, and held that over them instead.  It was a more intense, focused heat, which was, I thought, the only thing that might save some of them.  And it worked.  After about five minutes, a couple of them started to move slightly.  I began to hope I’d be able to save at least one.

By ten minutes, all but one was starting to showing signs of recovery.  I was so sure that one of them was gone, though.  It was completely still and cold; no signs of life whatever.  If you’ve ever held a dead bird, you know what dead feels like; this one felt dead.  But you should never assume a creature that “died” of cold is actually dead, until you warm it up completely.

A few minutes after the rest were starting to move around, the “dead” chick opened its eyes and looked at me.

All seven survived, and tonight, they are all running around as if nothing ever happened.  Quail chicks look fragile, but they are surprisingly resilient.  Still, if I hadn’t drank so much water before I went to bed, or if I’d gotten up even a few minutes later…I know I would have only one chick left.  Miracles do happen.

Lesson learned.  From now on out, I’m leaving the overhead light on in the living room so the quail have enough light find their way back to the Brooder if they decide to go Crazy Quail Adventuring in the middle of the night.

And that eighth chick who had enough sense to stay under the Brooder?  If she’s a girl, I should name her Athena, after the Greek goddess of wisdom!

Besides rescue quail, I did a little work in the garden.  I’m in the process of making a small water garden inside one of my flower beds, out of a plastic tub.

The tub is sunken into the raised bed (I will eventually bury the front of the tub as well.)  It will be lined around the edge with bricks.

Inside are two concrete cinder blocks, to raise ledges for the plantings to sit on.

The holes in the cinder blocks will be nice hiding holes for future fish.

I also swung by the local nursery and picked up two more gooseberries.  One Black Velvet, and another of the Captivator gooseberries that I planted one of last year.  We got about four berries from it, and they were SO good.  An absolutely wonderful sweet flavor, right off the bush!  I knew I had to at least one more of this variety.  I also got a Petite Negri fig, which I will grow in a pot, and something I’d never heard of: an Apple Rose.

It is a very old type of rose that is grown for its large, flavorful hips.  They actually had it in the edible fruit area of the nursery, rather than with the other roses.

rosa-canina-hip

The garden is really starting to wake up.  Everything is greening out, and several types of early flowers are blooming.  I put my mason bees out, so hopefully they’ll come successfully out of their cocoons soon.  Oh!  And I saw my first bee today; a bumblebee.  I was so happy to see her buzzing around.  She appeared to be on a mission; I suspect she was a scout out searching for a new place to build a hive.  Hopefully her and her sisters will choose someplace very close to my garden, if not inside it.  I adore bumblebees.

In other bee news, Mom painted the new honeybee hive, and it’s out in the garden on its new stand awaiting its new residents!

My Beehive is Here!

It’s a Warre hive, made by Sweet Valley Hives, and it’s gorgeous.  Beautiful workmanship!

It arrived in two very large boxes.

From the ground up, here’s all the pieces and how they fit together. If you want to understand what everything is, here’s a great video by the maker.

The base:

The first two boxes:

Each box has top bars for the bees to make honeycomb on.  This box has an added insert of a “queen ring”.  See the little rectangle plug on the left? When my bees arrive, the queen will be in a separate box, just that size.  I’ll take the plug out, and insert the queen’s box.  Once the bees accept her as queen, they will release her into the hive, and I can put the plug back in place.  It’s a brilliant little system that Sweet Valley Hives invented, and makes releasing the queen much simpler.

The boxes are made from cedar, and the bars are coated in a thin layer of wax; combined, the boxes smell so nice!

Each box also has a glass window in the side.  With a Warre hive, the only time you open the hive is when you harvest the honey, so it’s great to have a way of checking up on what the bees are doing.

There are three boxes in total, then a screen to collect propolis.

On top of the screen is a quilt box, which will be filled with shavings.  Sweet Valley Hives even included a bag of shavings!  This quilt box helps regulate temperature, plus keeps moisture out of the hive.  The latter is especially important in my climate.

Lastly, there is a very well ventilated roof.

We have to finish building the stone base, but we couldn’t resist sitting the hive in the place where it will eventually sit.

Right next door to the chickens.  Antoinette doesn’t appear to even notice the new housing development going up!

I may have to put a divider up to redirect the bees out of the chicken yard, if there’s a problem, but I’ll wait and see.  The chickens know all about bees and hornets, and give them a wide berth. When Josie was fostering her little chicks, one of the chicks found a dead hornet laying the ground.  It started to peck at it, and Josie galloped over at her top speed, screaming.  She grabbed that hornet away from her chicks and threw it as far as she could.  And then gave them a really long, animated lecture on the dangers of stinging insects, telling them in no uncertain terms they were NEVER to touch one again.  It was quite entertaining to watch!

Buying a Beehive

Well, we’ve done it!  After reading every book I could lay my hands on, checking out a million blogs and other other online informational sources…I’ve picked a type of beehive, selected a company to make it, and placed my order.

I am about to become a beekeeper!

If you’ve been reading my adventures with raising quail, it will come as no surprise that I believe the best way to raise any sort of living creature is by figuring out what way of life they prefer…then giving it to them (as closely as possible.)  In this case, I’ve come to the definite conclusion the way to natural, healthy bees is using the Warre Hive.

hive1

Last night I attended my first (and probably last) meeting of the local beekeeping group.  They were all extremely nice folks, and all wanted to be helpful, but wow.  What an eye-opening experience!  Not one of them uses anything other than the “traditional” Langstroth hive.  The Langstroth hive is actually a very new concept in bee-keeping – a very invasive, non-natural way, that forces the bees to put out an excess of honey at the expense of their health and happiness.

And our health, too.  Using the Langstroth hive, beekeepers are functionally forced to use chemicals in their hives to control pests and diseases, and to artificially feed them sugar during the winter to keep them alive.  Also, the Langstroth hive depends upon using pre-made honeycomb, instead of allowing the bees to make their own.  This pre-made comb is either plastic, or beeswax taken from many other hives, or a combination.  There is no way of knowing what chemicals or diseases this comb has been exposed to, and since it is re-used again and again in your own hive, the result is clearly problematic!  With the Warre hive, the bees make their own honeycomb every year, so it is always fresh and new.  It is also made especially to the bees’ specifications, and they are such master designers that it is complete foolishness to think we know better they they do how a hive should be run.

The local beekeepers said that they had a serious problem with hive failure, and they tracked the difficulty in keeping their bees alive to three things:

1) Varroa mite infestation.  Varroa mites can be handled naturally, and a Warre hive allows you to do so.

2) Moisture within the hive.  A Warre hive is specifically designed to combat this!

3) Starvation during winter.  I intend to put my bees first.  Until about 150 years ago, people didn’t harvest their honey in fall, but waited until spring.  Fall harvesting means you have to simply guess how much honey your bees will need to see them safely through the winter – and some folks today will even take all the honey and just artificially feed all winter long.  This is so wrong to me.  If you wait until spring, you might end up with less honey, but your bees will be in no danger of starvation!

There is conclusive evidence that the problems with the honeybee population is directly caused by invasive, unnatural beekeeping practices; practices that focus on forcing as much honey from the bees as possible, rather than on the overall health and well-being of the bees themselves.  This is absolutely in line with what I’m seeing everywhere else in the modern world, when it comes to “controlling” and “managing” nature, and I find it an appalling thing.  If a Langstroth hive were the only way to keep bees, I wouldn’t keep them.  After everything I’ve learned and read, it’s become that simple for me.

The Warre hive is the closest thing I can find to a completely natural experience for the bees, and as a side result, a beekeeper gets to have all the fun and almost none of the work.  The only times you bother the hive at all is when you first install your bees, and when you harvest the honey.  Each box on the Warre hive comes with an observation window, through which you can watch your bees without bothering them.

Here’s a video from Sweet Valley Hives explaining the Warre hive.  I have purchased my hive from them.

And, as I was typing this, I just got an email from my bee guy.  My bees have been scheduled to ship in April.  The hive will arrive the first week of March, so that will give me plenty of time to paint it and get it set up and ready.

I’m going to paint the hive yellow.  The brightest yellow I could find!

a6f3fb5e-8762-430a-8987-a94b4cfde79c_087-6It’s called “Sunny at Heart” and it’s from Mythic Paint, which is the most non-toxic paint available.

My bees are coming from a small, family-run bee operation in Stewart, MN.  Most shipped bees come from Southern states, which concerned me a little, as my climate here is not at all similar.  At least with Minnesota, they’ll be used to cold winter temps, so my milder winter won’t be a huge shock to them.  I was also won over by how they ship their bees, as well as their level of personal service:

“Package bees for the 2014 season…Specially packed with our special essential oil enriched sugar syrup..NO CORN SYRUP…and a special pollen supplement to give them a head start. In today’s world the pesticides are decimating the honey bees and their best hope for survival is the backyard beekeeper. My bees will get to you in the best condition possible.

 “Our small family run operation gives your bees the extra care needed to get a great start. I will give everyone who purchases my personal cell number available 8am -11pm 7 days a week. I will help you through whatever problems you may be having.

$_58

And in other news, I realized I haven’t shown you any pictures of the two New Girls since they grew up and started laying.

This is Isabelle and Elizabeth (Little Blue).

Little Blue is a Blue Andalusian.  She is extremely friendly, despite being foster-raised by one of my hens.  She comes running whenever she sees me, and wants to sit on my lap.  She also has the largest, most floppy comb of any of my girls…but even during our 12 degree cold snap, I had no worries about frostbite!

Isabelle is a Cream Brabanter, and I just love this breed!  She is so cute, with her feather crest.  She is also very friendly, but she tends to be more of a ‘busy hen’ – less time to sit on laps, and more time out foraging.  When I call the other girls in for a treat, she’s frequently too far away to bother coming…unless I call her by name.  As soon as she hears her name, she calls back to let me know she’s heard me, then comes from wherever she is.

I never would have imagined that hens would learn their names like dogs, but not only do they know their own names, they know the names of the other hens as well.  For instance, Ellie (my favorite and very spoiled  hen) always gets annoyed with me when I call one of the other girls over to give them attention.  And she actually growls in annoyance if I call Antoinette over, because she is not fond of how pushy Antoinette is.  They are so funny, these girls!

Assuming my trusty broody hen carries on her broody tradition, I plan to add two more girls to the flock.  A Speckled Sussex, and another attempt at getting a female Ameraucana/Easter Egger.  I want colored eggs, but I always seem to pick the rooster….!