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Let 2015 Begin!

January 3, 2015

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Happy New Year everyone!  The past few weeks have graced us with occassional 55-60 degree days, giving me the opportunity to check on the welfare of my girls.  So far all five hives have been out and about, cleaning house, getting some orientation time in.  I’ve continued to restock their candy so they always have food, so we’ll just keep on keepin’ in hopes that spring comes quick this year.  No worries though, I have plenty of indoor activities lined up.

“The Bees”

The hubster bought me a book for Christmas called (what else?) “The Bees”.  It’s not a how-to book, but rather a fictional novel where the characters are all bees.  It got great reviews, and I’ll post my own thoughts when I’ve finished it.

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Of course I’ll be reading Michael Bush’s “The Practical Beekeeper”, “Beekeeping for Dummies”, and some other beekeeping books to help me keep up with the girls.

Soaps, Lotions and Potions…Oh My!

I’m obsessed with soaping and lotions and potions.  I made a batch of Goat’s Milk Hand and Body Lotion and Goat’s Milk Facial Lotion yesterday, and today I have a batch of Honey Oat Soap melting down in the crockpot as I write this.  I might even make a batch of lotion bars before the day’s end.

Check out the recipes on the main menu bar above!  I’ll add more recipes and how to’s for using honey and beeswax.

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Equipment Prep and Cleaning

It has to be done – Clean the hive tools, smokers and boxes.  Prep frames, and build and paint new boxes.  Build swarm traps. Plan out a new area for more hives (don’t tell the hubster) :o)

Planning out the Garden

Buying and starting seeds in the greenhouse this year???  Will be nice to use it for something other than storing bee equipment :o)

Happy Beekeeping in 2015!

Yep, lots of busy work ahead in preparation for what I hope will be a growing and prosperous 2015.  Best wishes to everyone for another happy, busy, productive beekeeping year!  I’m off to make soap….

 

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Burnt Sugar Bad for Bees

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Learning lessons the hard way – most definitely my biggest pet peeve about beekeeping.  But as I’ve said many times, if you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t learning.  I made what could be a serious mistake this past week.  A simple mistake that I didn’t think anything of until I decided to research it a little too late.

I made a batch of sugar syrup last weekend.  I added sugar, then water, didn’t stir it, turned on the heat, then ran upstairs.  When I came back, the bottom of the sugar had scorched; not much, but enough that it turned a caramel amber color.  I strained all the pieces out and fed it to the bees anyway.  I’d been meaning to look it up, but life is crazy, so not until 5 days later did I give it a Google.

In no uncertain terms, burned sugar syrup of any kind is bad for bees.  It will make them sick and it can kill them. 

Fan-freakin-tastic.  I removed all feed from the hives and whipped up a new batch of syrup.  I haven’t noticed any issues yet, but then I’m at work all day and haven’t seen the girls in action all week.  It’s too cold when I leave and too dark when I come home.  Frustrating, but it is what it is.  I’ll keep and eye on them and hope for the best.  Passing it on in hopes that others can learn from my mistakes.

Initial Prep for Winter 2014-15

Sunday, October 5, 2014

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I can’t believe it’s that time of year already.  Seems like yesterday we were chasing swarms and working to keep up with the spring explosion.  This year, it looks as though we’re going into winter with 5 hives.  I do no go into winter optimistically.  The bees are resilient, but anything can happen between now and spring.  I keep moving forward, try to do the right things and hope for the best.  I went into last winter with 3 hives and came out with 2.  Ventilation was the big issue.  Bees can handle cold, but they can’t handle wet.  The lost hive contained lots of moisture.  So above keeping them warm, I want to be sure the hives have good ventilation.

I took advantage of yesterday’s 70 degree weather to do some winter inspecting and prep.

1) Check for strong hives.  

I did not check for the queen this time, since I did find brood two weeks ago and the numbers look good in each of the boxes.  I’m not messing with them, since that does more damage than good.  Brood is at bottom, stores are at top.  My overwintered hives have lots and lots of stores, even Green Hive despite the robbing episode.

2) Checking for stores

Mint and Purple Hives, my two new hives, are lower on stores but feeding like crazy.  I’m continuing to feed them like crazy so they can stash it away, and I’ll give them both several frames of honey left over from last years hives.

3) Feeding 2:1 Syrup with Honey B Healthy

That’s 2 parts sugar to 1 part water – all hives are feeding right now in hopes that they’ll pack it away and have plenty to eat for winter.  I always use Honey B Healthy (HBH).  In fact, I make my own HBH which contains organic wintergreen, lemongrass and spearmint essential oils to help keep their guts clean and to help ward off varroa.   I’ll post the recipe soon!  Just as effective, and much cheaper than buying it.   If you do purchase HBH, use 1-2 tsp per gallon of syrup.

Mason Jar Feeders – I switched all of my hives to the mason jar feeders for several reasons:

1. They’re inexpensive and and easy to make.  Especially nice when you have a bunch of hives.  I simply drill 10-15 holes in the top center of the lid using 1/64 size drill bit.

2. They’re easy to collect and fill as needed.

3. I put 2 jars in, so when one empties, I can remove and they still have syrup left in the second jar until I fill the first jar up again.

4. Easy to see what they’ve consumed through the clear glass.

5. They fit securely within a medium box.

6. They dispense the right amount of syrup, so there’s less chance of it sitting and crystalizing.  And if it does crystalize, you can see it through the jar.

I place the feeders on a set of wooden or plastic chopsticks so the bees can fit beneath the jars.  After awhile, they become a permanent part of the inner cover as the bees glue them in place.

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4) Feeding Grease Patties

An easy supplement to help ward off tracheal mites.  Click here for my Grease Patty Recipe.

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6. Installed Mouse Guards

We had our first front/freeze warning, so I installed my mouse guards so the little critters can’t make their home in my hives.  I used the Brushy Mountain mouse guards last year, which worked fine.  But I find myself going with the easy, less expensive options as my apiary has expanded.  1/2 inch hardware mesh works great.  I set the entrance size to larger to prevent bottlenecking, and to allow for a bit more ventilation.

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That’s it for now.  Our first round of winter prep.  I have a few more tricks up my sleeve to help them out this winter, but the bulk of the work will be up to the bees!

2014 Frederick County Fair – Popular Bees!

September 20, 2014

One thing I look forward to each year is working the fair with the Frederick County Beekeeping Association.  In addition to selling hoards of honey and educating our locals about beekeeping, colony collapse disorder, the benefits of honey, and so much more, we also teach them how to make hand rolled beeswax candles!

People make a bee-line to come visit us and see the bees!  It’s really a wonderful event.

Here are some fun photos highlighting the FCBA at the fair…

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The Epipen Dilemma

August 19, 2014

 

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The epipen is a stick of adrenaline, literally.  If you find yourself reacting badly to a sting, like throat closing, unable to breath – then you stick one of these into your thigh, which releases adrenaline into your system and makes your heart race, which somehow counteracts the reaction and can save your life.  Every beekeeper should have one around the house, if not for themselves, then for visitors.  It is lifesaving insurance.

Two seasons and six hives later I finally decided, or rather remembered to call my doctor and make an appointment to get an epipen prescription.  We recently had dinner with friends, one of who was a member of the actual team that developed the epipen.  He asked about the bees and my husband relayed my large poofy reactions to the stings.  I’m not deathly allergic, but I do swell considerably.  In no uncertain terms, he said I needed to get an epipen IMMEDIATELY, and followed with horrible stories of people who died because they disregarded their reactions and symptoms to stings.

I met with my doctor, and after answering the standard questions – “how’d you get into  beekeeping?”, “what do you do with your honey?”, and so on – my prescription was called in and I was warned – “they’re pretty expensive”.  Really?  No one told me they’d be very expensive.

Next stop…the pharmacist.  I asked “how expensive are they?”, and his response – “they’re expensive as hell!”.  For two (yes, they only come in two packs) epipens that I hope I will never have to use…ever…they cost $400.  I just about choked on my own tongue.  How do you make a decision like that?  Whether to take the risk or spend $400?  Even $200 for one is insane, yikes!  But the alternative is even worse.  Decisions, decisions.

Luckily, insurance did cover them, so my decision was easy.  $30 later, me and my epipens were heading home.  What if insurance didn’t cover it?  How many beekeepers opt NOT to purchase them because they’re so expensive and they don’t have insurance to cover them?  A vast dilemma I’m sure, and something that’s easily dismissed until time of need.

In anycase, I hope this little experience sheds some light on yet another side of beekeeping that many may not know about or consider.  We hear about near and final fatalities from bee stings all the time, and I for one, take risks and get stung regularly, thinking I’ll always bee fine – just war wounds, part of being a beekeeper.  But I confess that having the epipens does offer some comfort, knowing that my husband, my family, my friends, myself – we’re all safer now because I have two epipens in my bathroom drawer.  I hope never to have to use one, but they’re there if the need arises.

Back from Vacation

July 4, 2014 (Friday)

I have returned after a week away from the girls and I’m happy to report that they are all present and accounted for, happily buzzing about and making the garden grow so tall that even my tallest hives barely peek over top.

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The garden provides some food sources, as does the clover and flowers, but trees are the primary sources of pollen and nectar for the bees. Now that they’ve stopped blooming, we’re experiencing some dearth, resulting in robbing activity and a frenzy on our hummingbird feeders. During our drive through South Dakota, the grasslands were filled with yellow flowered alfalfa. I thought about how my bees would go nuts in a field like that.

I’m always amazed at the many, many locations that would bee perfect for keeping bees – like parks, nature reserves, and vast fields of wildflowers. Seems to me the best way to increase the bee populations is to give them more places to live and flourish. So I was happy to see apiaries set up periodically in the grasslands along the highway.

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I wondered if I would have noticed them were I not a beekeeper. I’m so much more aware of bee-related things now, spotting beehives, bees, flowers and nectar sources.  It was good to get away, but I’m happy to bee home tending to my own bees, picking the fruits of their labor from the garden, and keeping tabs on their honey production. They’re coming along slowly but surely. Soon we’ll be extracting honey that WE can eat.  Perhaps as soon as this weekend…

White House Takes Action

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Did you read President Obama’s White House memorandum released last Friday (June 20, 2014) that outlines the Federal Strategy for researching, preventing, and restoring the pollinator population in the US? The Government is obviously taking the issue very seriously, as well they should with the rapidly growing people population and land development, and the expanding use of pesticides and chemicals for home, public and commercial applications.

I am always asked “what is causing colony collapse disorder”. This memo answers that question based on what most scientists believe (I believe it too):

“Scientists believe that bee losses are likely caused by a combination of stressors, including poor bee nutrition, loss of forage lands, parasites, pathogens, lack of genetic diversity, and exposure to pesticides.” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/20/presidential-memorandum-creating-federal-strategy-promote-health-honey-b)

This statement identifies the main problems in a nutshell, the point being that the problem is actually a combination of problems.  I wish the Federal Government every success, and I hope the effort continues long after President Obama’s administration. However, I can’t help but wonder what they know that we don’t.  How severe the situation must be if the Government is suddenly jumping in and taking such dramatic action. But then maybe it has been in the works longer than we think.   Did you know the White House has a bee hive? See the video below.

So one beehive isn’t going to save the world, but visibility is important…and hopefully, within a year or two, they will split that sucker and populate the White House grounds with lots of beehives. The White House is a great way to promote urban and not-so-urban beekeeping – and what better way to educate the kiddies who come to visit and plant gardens with Mrs. Obama?  For their 6th annual planting, they added a pollinator garden to the White House grounds – see the video below.

Good for Michelle Obama!  She’s bringing attention to a cause that affects everyone, and better yet, she’s starting with the kids. Getting kids interested at a young age is one of the best ways to ensure the long term future health and welfare of our bees and all other pollinators. I promise you, this is not a pro- or anti-Obama post, but as a beekeeper, I do find it encouraging to see the President and First Lady taking this situation seriously and doing something about it through action and education.  I just hope the big political wigs assigned to the Pollinator Task Force take this responsibility seriously, as it may someday bee a life for death situation.

One other suggestion that might improve their efforts is to implement generous tax incentives for beekeepers.  Yes, indeed we help keep the bees going.  Besides, not only would more people bee encouraged to take up beekeeping, but existing beekeepers would have more money for maintaining more hives.  Seriously, it’s a no brainer.