Monday, June 17, 2013

A bee-yootiful day!

SO busy around here! I miss my bloggy friends and I need to catch up... I did spend some quality time in the veggie garden this evening, squishing potato bugs and their eggs. I am trying to keep them under control this year so they don't overwhelm my potato plants like they did last year. 

My four new hives are all installed and I am just loving their location! Can you see them in the photo below?



How about now?



There they are!


We've put them on the grassy knoll halfway down our back fields. The trees behind the hives are sumac that sprang up since we moved here. This part of the field hasn't ever been planted. Apparently it once served as the farm trash dump! Then I heard a rumour that the former owner was digging for gravel here. Regardless, it was all filled in and smoothed over before we moved in.


The view is of the field about to be planted in native grasses and wildflowers. The weather has not been cooperating. We've had an awful lot of rain. The planting can't be done until the entire 21 acres have been sprayed with Round-up herbicide. Now, I am no fan of chemicals but there's not much choice here. The weeds all have to be killed before the grass can be planted. Hopefully the spray guy will come this week, followed by the Ducks Unlimited fellow who is doing all the planting!

The grasses will be planted all the way back to our woodlot, all around the grassy knoll. My bees are going to be in heaven here.



There's the barn, with the new "aviary" on the back. :) It's really just a wire roof over the outside duck/chicken run, but it's reminding me of some sort of exotic enclosure these days. 

But back to the bees!


I am feeding the girls sugar syrup for a week to help them get established. The colonies are still small, but they are growing quickly. Our main nectar flow will be starting any day now. All sorts of things are about to burst into flower!


The dogs loved it back there too, and Sophie got a nice butt-scratch!

I've put a little old bench near the hives. While I was sitting there admiring the view, I noticed lots of wild strawberries at my feet...



So delicious! Sophie noticed them too and I had to grab some before she inhaled them all. She and Tristan love berries.

It was so peaceful sitting on the bench this afternoon, listening to the hum of bees, eating the wild berries and feeling the cool breeze on my face. I think I am going to spending lots of time here this summer.

We have lots of wild black raspberries on our farm too. These ones should be ripe by July!


The hives look so spic and span. That won't last!


My friend Pierre set these up for me around 6 am last Saturday, while I was still snoozing! I offered to help but he snuck in and out before I was conscious. He took my nucs from a few weeks back, installed new queens (Pierre breeds queen bees), made sure the queens mated successfully, and brought them all back to my place. Fortunately you can get a car down the grassy lane to the beehives. I have to haul a lot of stuff back and forth so I need vehicle access. I call driving on the manicure grass path "off-roading"! :)

But if I don't have much to carry, I'm happy to walk. So are the dogs! Sophie looked sweet amongst the daisies...





I am going to put some sort of fencing or barrier around the hives to keep the skunks out. Skunks love to eat bees!

And today was the start of National Pollinator Week, here's a pollinator:


I think it's an alfalfa leafcutter bee on the buttercup.


And how's this for cool? When Pierre brought the hives over, each box had only four or five frames in it. I need nine frames in each box to make it complete, so later on Saturday morning, I took a box of frames over and added frames to each hive. 

But when I opened two of the hives, I was surprised to find that the girls were already filling the empty spaces with honeycomb! In under a day (Pierre had only moved the bees into their bigger boxes later on Friday), those busy bees had already made all this wax comb:


When honey bees built comb in nature, it looks like this. It hangs down in large rounded pieces that are  shaped a bit like a segmented football.

The girls start with lots of smaller pieces like the ones above, and gradually join them together until they've got several large pieces of comb that form the hive. It looks like this

Some people don't give their bees any foundation to build on. But most beekeepers, like me,  use sheets of wax foundation, or plastic foundation coated with wax, inserted in the wooden frames. Without foundation, the bees will fill up a frame like this. Freeform!


This comb is a miracle of nature. Bees secrete wax through special glands on their abdomens, then shape the wax with their mandibles and legs, making these amazing hexagons. While working on building wax, the bees will "chain", or hang onto each other by the legs, looking like little ropes of bees as they work. There's a good photo of that process here.

It amazes me how quickly honey bees can make comb when they are fired up and ready to go. 


Isn't nature wonderful? I had to take these pieces out of the hive, but I can melt them down and use the beeswax for things like candles. I couldn't leave them in the hive because they would have gotten smushed once I'd put the new frames in to fill the empty space in the hives. And yes, the comb smells wonderful. One of the things I like about gloveless beekeeping is the way my hands smell afterward! Beeswax and propolis, mmm!

And guess who got stung today?


My own fault! That sucker is really swelling up this time. Most of the time I hardly react at all. Anyway, all my own fault. After my walk today, I went up to the front of one of my older hives by the garage and decided I should try to brush off the poor dead bees I'd squashed between boxes while working the hive the other day. Apparently one of the bees around the hive took offense to that, and nailed me good! :) I figure it's fair payback for the unfortunate squashings the other day. I try to be really careful about not hurting my bees, but the brood boxes can and do weigh 50 lbs or more, so when I am putting the top brood box on top of the bottom, I can only do so much careful manoeuvring before I have to let the box go. Sometimes a few bees are still on the rim when I do that and ooops! But I daresay I am more careful than most of my (male!) beekeeping friends. I hate squishing my girls.

My friend Pierre thinks I'll get 850 - 1,000 lbs of honey from my eight hives this year! I'll be busy at extraction time. Busy as a bee! 


31 comments:

  1. Wow..this was really interesting. Love all the photos. And you have daisies...wonderful. Put me down for 6 bottles of honey. :)

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  2. Good on you for setting up some native habitat. I wish more people would do that and that the idiots who destroy it would stop the destruction.

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  3. Your new hives are the exact same models as the ones that have just been brought into our woods to take advantage of the chestnut flowers (here they sit on old car tyres). Our Monty is not so keen on bees as your Sophie.

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  4. To bad for me I can´t get your honey. And building a pipe (remember Nova Scotia?) to here would be to expensive.:-)And yeah, I know your feelings sitting outside and listen to mother nature. I must confess I miss it very much.

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  5. Love seeing the wild strawberries! My mom used to make enough jam from those to do our family of eight and give away as Christmas gifts. The hours she spent in picking them! The honeycombs fascinate me. Nature is amazing!

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  6. I'm looking forward to seeing the grasslands established. A little prairie.

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  7. My Dad would have loved this! As a small child he showed me honeycombs and explained how the bees made them,he taught me how to hold a bee,and how useful they were to nature.I think he would have made a great bee keeper.
    Jane x

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  8. OMG! I love strawberries!
    The bee sting is painful. I hope you stay better soon!!!
    Thanks to the visits and comments!!!
    Kisses

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  9. Wow that's a lot of honey expected this year! So awesome! You will be busy at extraction time. I still haven't been stung yet thank goodness but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Hope your sting feels better soon. So neat how the bees made all that comb already! Bees are amazing :)

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    1. I didn't get stung my whole first year of beekeeping! It reallly doesn't bother me much now, although I stilll don't get stung all that often. I felt kind of relieved when I was finally stung, because I'd been building it up in my head. It turned out not to be so bad. I always feel guilty about the bee dying, though!

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  10. It's a shame you have to resort to that nasty Round Up to replant your native grassland, but it's a worthy project for the environment. Once again, you have given us an education on bees and honey production. I wish your girls a healthy, happy summer!

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    1. Yes, I'm grinning and bearing it. Ducks Unlimited and our local conservation authority are in charge of it and if we want them to plant grasses, the land must be free of weeds. But after this, no more Round Up. Just prescribed burns every three years or so!

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    2. What I'm saying is, they decided in the Round Up plan! :)

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  11. Sprayed with Round-Up? From Monsanto? ... Oh my goodness do not tell Sean Jeating.

    Shhhhh.................

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    1. I know, I know,it's evil! But doing that and planting native grasses means we won't be growing any GM crops on that land For the next 20 years (or more.) Plus the farmer renting the rest of our land already dorayed Round-up on his section, But we are in the process of getting rid of all that. Front of farm is now planted in hay, can do without chemicals!

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  12. That certainly looks like bee heave and a nice place for a walk too.

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    Replies
    1. It's very pleasant indeed! :)

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  13. Those honeycombs look like jewellery

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    Replies
    1. I should gold-plate them and make some earrings!

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  14. I really enjoyed this post Natalie. The bit about the honeycombs was fascinating. You're making me want to get bees now... do they go after squirrels too?? ;-)

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    1. Get yourself two hives of bees for your garden (two is best, because you can compare the hives and learn a lot!!) I loooove my bees. I need to train them to go for squirrels!!!

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  15. I love you baby strawberries!

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  16. Replies
    1. I got a nice room in the barn for ya! Bring the cats! (And Mr. Tie Dye!)

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  17. The beehives look camouflaged. I'll bet they'll be happy having their own meadow of flowers. Great info on how they construct the freeform combs -- what incredible creatures!

    Janet

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    1. I think I will get some amazing honey off those wildflowers and native grasses! I'm really excited.

      I never cease to be amazed by bees. :)

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  18. Ouch! Just the thought makes my heart race, but the new hives are beautiful and I can only imagine (and can't wait to see) the field planted with wild flowers. What a beautiful place!

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    1. Fields are getting planted next week and I can't wait!! It won't look all that terrific this year. Next year will be better, and the third season will be spectacular! :) I am so happy this is going forward. Lots of Bobolink and Meadowlark habitat, too.

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  19. I was wondering what do bees eat in winter if all the honey they make gets harvested?

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    1. I always leave enough honey for them for the winter! I don't take all their honey. They keep some in their two deep brood boxes (the bottom two boxes) and I always make sure they have a good amount of honey in there in the late fall, before I wrap them up before winter. We feed them sugar syrup in fall to supplement if there is any shortage! Long winters here, so I'm careful to make sure they don't starve. it does happen, though. I've been lucky so far.

      Bees are good at making lots of excess honey! Busy little girls. :)

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Thank you for all your comments, which I love to read!