I went into my apiary a couple of days ago to replace the rotted through pallet that served as the stand for one of the hives. (One day in summer I happened to look out Amie’s bedroom window and saw that hive visibly starting to tilt, tilt, tilt toward the other hive. Throwing on just gloves, I ran out and saw that the pallet had just given way. I shored it up with a couple of bricks and a cinder block. Imagine I hadn’t looked out: that hive, three boxes high, would probably also have taken the other hive with it.) I was dreading it, because those deeps can be really heavy, and moving two of them, plus hive stand, while the bees were in full swing getting the last nectar in, was a little enervating.

Imagine my surprise to find those deep to be very light. Too light. No honey in them! They might have been robbed, or ate it all, somehow, since I last looked and found plenty of honey stores. I checked the other one and it was a heavier, but still not up to par.

So, time to feed these bees. Winter feeding is done with hard candy board; the bees can’t afford to waste energy evaporating the water from syrups, and if they don’t and eat it, they get dysentery. Another advantage is that candy board can be situated right above the cluster, where the honey should be, so the bees can more easily get at it.

Not having the supplies to make two 2″ high frames, I opted for two shallows I had lying around. I followed these instructions.

First up, fun with hardware cloth! O how I love hardware cloth. Wear gloves! I stapled the cloth to the inside of the super.

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Not keen on cooking the candy, I followed these instructions, but I added some Honeynbee Healthy.

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I spread a sheet of blank newsprint over the cloth. This is to keep the sugar mixture in the box while it hardens. The bees will chew through it. The blue box is to keep that opening for the bees and for ventilation.

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Then I put a large pollen patty in and spread the candy all around it. It gets heavy (this was 10 lbs of candy, 2 and a quarter cup of water, 1 tbs of vinegar and 1 tbs of HoneyBee Healthy), and the hardware cloth sags under the weight, so I put an old fridge rack underneath in case I had to move it before it got dry and hard – which took over 24 hours, with a fan right on top of it.

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While I was at it, I decided to add an insulating function to this contraption, but just sticking an insulation board above the candy (as in the video) seems to be inviting a humidity problem: the bees will keep the hive warm, condensation will rise, some will get absorbed by the candy, some will hit the inner cover, make an icicle and that will drip down on them – not a good situation. I did some research and liked the way Warre Hives have a loosely packed “quilt of wood shavings” that serves as insulation and ventilation.

So, I cut another strip of hardware cloth, folding the legs so it makes a “stand” about 2 inches off the candy board:
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Then the Solarize lawn signs, of which I still have hundreds, came in handy (again). I had fun with the box cutter, cutting the sign to the size of the inside of the super, then cutting out a “grate”. I then cut a piece of burlap to that size and stapled two sides of it to the “grate”.

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Flip it over and place it on top of the hardware cloth “stand” in the super. Sturdy enough.
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As an afterthought I added a loop so I can easily pull it up and out if I want to go in and check on the candy.

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Then cover with about 2 inches of wood shavings.

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I plan to put the inner cover on top of this, then the telescoping outer cover. It won’t even have to be warm to go in and check on the shavings (too wet: replace) and the sugar candy in winter without chilling the bees.

We’ve had a couple of cold nights, in the upper thirties. Apparently, it’s beyond what an exposed colony can handle. I checked yesterday and except for a couple of stragglers, there are no bees left. I will ask my neighbor if he wants to climb up there and bring down that gorgeous comb.

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This mead is done! It was made with raw honey and champagne yeast. After more than a year in the carboy, I bottled it. It is quite dry, with that typical, somewhat surprising mead flavor reminiscent of honey. it can age some more in the bottle. Look how clear it is, compared to the next batch!

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I also racked the two 3 gallon carboys that I put together with the winterkill (hence pasteurized) honey at the beginning of August. One went into a fresh 3 gallon carboy (not pictured) – I had to top it off with brandy, since after leaving the lees (thick layer of dead yeast at the bottom) I no longer had 3 gallons. The other one went into two 1 gallon carboys and the leftover 3/4 gallon went into a bottle for immediate consumption. These are obviously very young and the taste isn’t as developed yet, but I hope after this thoroughly oxygenating operation, they’ll start up again. If they do, I’ll select one or two to add fruit. If they don’t, I’ll make one into a metheglin by adding spices. They’re sitting on my bedroom dresser, so I’ll know if they start bubbling again soon.

It’s getting a little repetitious, but there were again many more tomatoes. The warm weather continues and there are still many fruits on the vines, so this may not be the last of ‘em.

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I’m looking forward to next summer, when I’ll have the super sunny front patio to grow tomatoes, peppers (can you spot the red one) and eggplants. The crew starts work on it in a week or two.

I went into the bees just now and found very little honey, just four or so full frames. There are lots of frames half-filled, half-capped. The bees were hard at work there, though (at least I hope they were, and that they weren’t gorging on honey in preparation of a swarming!). So perhaps I just need to be a little more patient and I’ll get another ten or so frames from both hives.

The generation of hens – three two -year-olds, one one -year-old and four 6-month-old pullets – have been combined into one coop. There’s a quite a bit of pecking, but not too much. The poor one-year-old gets the worst of it. No eggs from the pullets yet.

I am so thankful to these chickens for many reasons, one of which follows. Amie had her kids’ birthday party on Sunday (we postponed it because in Summer many of her friends aren’t around) and I promised to make the heatwave cake. I had bought a dozen organic, free-range, extra large eggs at While Foods. What junk that was! The egg whites were like water, one whipping and the yolks turned beige. The first roll wasn’t up to my standards, so I made another one with an extra egg (that one failed because we just got a new-to-us range, and I must have pushed the wrong button; it was yummy but impossible to roll up). After french toast that morning, we had only 2 homegrown eggs left, but the hens laid three more, just in time for me to make one more roll, which was perfect. I’m happy I made that many, because the nine kids ate ALL THAT CAKE. It went so fast I didn’t get to take a picture.

Quickly.

Made 25 pints of blueberry jam from Farmers Market berries and another batch from 5 quarts of berries Amie and I picked at a very locally IPM place with friends one thunderstormy afternoon. We came out of the field drenched but happy and surprised we had been picking for three hours. Our tribe will be co-purchasing and canning peaches again.

Blanched and froze 4 lbs of green beans, half of these from our garden, half donated by a friend whose community garden plots are going wild. We’ve been sharing a lot of produce, one garden producing more of this than the other.

Put together two 3-gallon carboys of sweet mead with the winterkill honey, which I pasteurized. They’re bubbling away in the basement and should be done in few weeks – but that won’t stop me from going down there and thieving some for a taste.

We’ve been consistently harvesting onions, green beans, cherry tomatoes (the bigger ones are almost there), kale, chard, squash, zucchini, cucumber and tons of herbs from the garden. That plus our farm share is more than sufficient for our needs, and when I walk into the supermarket nowadays I skip the produce section altogether. I only (and rarely) mushrooms, but then I just spotted an enormous chicken-of-the-woods in the neighborhood, beckoning. Come to think of it, all I buy at the supermarket is the very occasional fish or meat and butter, and predominantly milk.

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With our town’s Green Team had a booth at the Farmers Market yesterday. We displayed all the harvests from the school gardens – all of which went to the Food Pantry this morning – photos of our school composting systems, and talked to people. We also sold some of my Spring honey as a fundraiser, as well as purslane harvested (weeded) from all our gardens. We ended up giving lots of it away and having lots left over too. No worries: I brought it home and made it into potato-purslane soup, most of it for freezing. Yum!

The chickens have been consistent layers and we’re looking forward to the pullets starting to lay (in September or thereabouts)m at which point our bartering power will increase significantly. The two flocks are “together” – well, in the same shared space, namely the chicken yard – during the day, but at night they still retire to their own coops.

Lastly, how lovely, really, to get books delivered that you had forgotten you’d ordered. A big batch for me today: Pioneer Women by Stratton, Pioneer Women by Peavy and Smith, The Klamath Knot by Wallace, The Way to Rainy Mountain and In the Bear’s House, both by Momaday.

We just had an almighty deluge come down like it was going to wash us all off the face of the planet. Aside from some flooding in the basement and porch, a wet husband and some wet chickens, all is well down here. Not so for the bees in the exposed nest up high in the tree. What were they thinking?! They’re a sodden mess, and half the population must have been washed away. Incredibly, the wax comb – six “frames” of it by now – looks intact, but I doubt the contents (brood, honey) did so well…

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My strong hive, H6, swarmed, possibly for a second time, on 7/14. Here’s one of of my friend Doug’s pictures of the swarm:
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They hung out on a tree about 60 feet up, still on our property, for days. Then I thought they were gone, and I stopped checking on them. My neighbor, however, has a much better vantage point from his property. Yesterday evening he alerted me that they’re still there, and making a nest.

No way, I said. Out in the open, in the place they swarmed to? Usually they’ll hang out outside while the scouts find a suitable new place, then they’ll come to a unanimous decision about what is the best place – which is what honeybee swarms do, following what bee-guru Thomas Seeley calls a true democratic process. Then they’ll fly off there and start filling what is usually a cavity in a tree or wall with comb, honey, brood, and live and hopefully prosper.

In this case, I guess, the scouts found nothing suitable, or they couldn’t come to that unanimous decision, and settled with the place they had swarmed to: 60 feet high on a tree, exposed to sun, wind, rain and, in a few months, frost. Their changes of surviving the winter are near to zero. But that’s what they did.

Waiting for the wind to whip some of the intervening branches out of my line of sight, I took these images. As you can see, they’ve already built three honeycombs and it is dripping with honey.

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One of the friends coming to help with the honey extraction yesterday shot some great pictures. Here they are, for your viewing pleasure! Thank you, Doug!!

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He really captured my kitchen in this one:
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And lastly, he is the only photographer who managed to penetrate the leaf cover and take a shot of the swarm way up high:

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It’s been a roller coaster with my two hives. Good thing I expect that now!

They are both first-year packages, installed end of April. One has been so-so, with a queen laying very little in a spotty pattern, then nothing at all. When I couldn’t find her, I put in a frame of eggs from my other hive. Going by the open queen cells, it looked like they may have hatched a queen from those, but I couldn’t fin her or eggs (as yet). It was hot when I went in, and the bees got quite upset, so I had to close up. That hive hasn’t been strong enough to start on a super. A clear sign of that came when I put a super on with just extracted frames dripping with the honey: they cleaned it out and moved the drippings into the brood nest – which is also a nice service, thank you!

The other hive, well! Over a month ago I put a friend’s box with dripping frames on it and they started filling it up. So I pulled that and put on my own super and they filled that up in a week. I should have know and aggressively split them, but by the time we came back from Panama, it was clear they had swarmed. Then, yesterday, they swarmed again! That swarm is hanging out in the notch of a tree about 30 feet up, in the middle of a dense copse too. We’d need a crane to get those. What irony, especially since we’ve been craving swarms for the Haven project. But what excitement watching them swarm, with rooting by Amie and me for them to land on a nice, low branch. No dice. I put a swarm trap on my neighbor’s property, a small chance but the best I can do.

Today I went in to see if there is still a queen or any queen cells left in that hive. Usually, an afterswarm leaves with the new virgin queen or several virgin queens and can leave the origin queenless. I knew which frame had all the queen cells before and pulled just that one. There they were, three of them still intact. There is no more capped brood, so I hope the bees still left will hold out till the new queen ecloses, flies out to mate, returns, lays eggs and those eggs hatch. Hopefully the new queen will have the best of her mom’s genes, and give me more honey come fall.

Yesterday I pulled the full super off that strong hive – easier to rob when there aren’t 70.000 bees protecting it – and honey extracting being a party, friends came over to help me extract over three gallons of bright Spring honey (I didn’t weigh it, but there were eight full frames which I’d estimate made about 38 pounds)

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Then we extracted the frames from the winter-killed hives. These are frames with half capped honey, crystallized honey, and dead bees, so not honey I would eat, give away or sell. So I will make mead with it.

Lastly, a month or so ago Amie did her first hive inspection with my friend Tom.

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This is one of my favorite times of the year: the first harvests are coming in. For greens, we are eating kale, lettuce, chard and good king Henry, New Zealand spinach, mache, minutina, and celery. All the herbs – parsley, rosemary, sage, etc. are ready. The malabar spinach is almost ready and it’s a lovely climber that is colonizing the trelises that the unfortunate peas never climbed (we had only a pound or so, the bunnies ate the rest). The potatoes – from organic potatoes I bought at the supermarket – are growing like weeds. So are the tomato vines. No ripe tomatoes yet, though.

I’ve also started putting up. Yesterday I made a pile of basil from my garden, our CSA and the Farmers Market and made 8 jars of pesto (to freeze). I assembled rhubarb from the garden with some from the Farmers Market and red currants from a friend’s garden and canned 8 jars of rhubarb-red currant preserves. I’m tasting the white currants in my garden every day to get them when they’re just ripe. There are also grapes growing, lots of them, but those will take longer. If all the little nubbin figs on our one remaining tree make it, we’ll have twenty or so figs.

The chickens are laying four eggs a day. And there are four of them. Toothless, who got injured and started limping, then getting pecked on even more ruthlessly, went for a spa at my friend Katharina’s place while we were away. I didn’t want my intrepid chicken sitters to have to deal with a bloody, or worse, chicken. Toothless has her own little coop there to relax and recover.

Tomorrow I plan to go into my hives and take a full super off the strongest one (which swarmed during the week we were away!). I almost fell over when I lifted it off: full of honey! I’ll add a new super to that one and also one to the less strong hive. Both hives are making new queens.

Speaking of honey. I am enjoying the raspberry melomel I made a little over a year ago. It is mellow and tasty and not too alcoholic.

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But where were we all last week? Hanging out with this crazy bunch…

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… in the rain forest of Panama!

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More about that in some other post. I need to go water the garden, because it’s dry here.