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Bearding

I just went into my two hives. One of them at least has overcrowded and hot – indicated by the massive bearding that begins in the late afternoon and continues through the night until the foragers go out again in the morning. They don’t abandon this way of keeping the hive cool inside even when it rains: scores of bees drown then. No swarming, though. Knock on wood! But if these hives survive the winter, I’d better be ready come spring!

I harvested 90 pounds of honey at the end of July. Considering these were first-year packages (on fully drawn-out frames, however), that was a gift. For the harvest  I used a bee escape built and lent to me by a friend. It was the first time I used it and it worked  great, on both hives (24 hours each). No more brushing angry bees off the individual frames, what a relief!

Today’s quick inspection when the hives were in the shade was pretty mellow. I just took a peek in the supers. There’s some honey in there, not much, and nothing capped. This was expected as the nectar flow has been bad, what with the drought. I had one and a half supers still dripping with honey from the harvest, so stuck one on top of each hive to let the bees clean out the frames. I’ll take them off again in a few days, before they start putting new honey in there or putting burr comb all over them.

Hopefully there will be another honey harvest after the fall nectar flow. We’ve had a week of good, mostly gentle rains, so hopefully the flowers will get going and flowing again.

I’ve become a much more hands-off beekeeper over the years. In my first year I used to go in every two weeks. Now, every time I prepare (lighting the smoker, getting into my gear in the backyard) and walk over to the apiary, I need to take a bit of a breath to calm my heart. Over the years I’ve come to realize that these are massive organisms I am messing with, often 50,000 bees busily doing their complex and enigmatic thing, who knows in what kind of mood, under what stress. That I am bigger may mean nothing to them: they’re 50,000, I’m just one. I often imagine what it would be like to accidentally drop a full frame or box, to go in at the very wrong moment, smelling of the wrong thing. Yes, there’s some fear there, but not the paralyzing kind, so I am not hands-off because of it. If anything, it makes my experience when I go in so much more intense and pleasurable. No longer thinking I am in control, but more there, with them, more respectful and awed (I for them, if they respect me, I wouldn’t know or presume), and more myself, too. So, if we realize Neighborwoods –  a bit more land – I think that I’ll build a much bigger apiary. Twenty, even fifty, hives, with room for queen and bee rearing,  now that would be life!

On Monday I picked up my new bees – two packages. Before that I built quite a few extra deep frames for them. It was easy to do, as I had blogged the process before and just had to refer to that old post.

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Amie helped put the puzzles together:

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The reason I made new frames was that I had pulled quite a few moldy frames out of the dead hives. I had planned to throw them all out, even the ones with just that blue/green/white sheen on them. But then – after I made the new ones – I read that a bit of mold doesn’t hurt the bees. It may even inhibit other micro-organisms that aren’t good for them. So I rescued the least affected frames and set them to dry in a warm spot with a fan on them.

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The two new hives now have all drawn-out comb in their bottom deeps, and two frames of drawn-out frames in the middle of the top deeps, surrounded by empty frames. It’s always a good thing to exchange 1/4 or 1/3 of the comb every year, as comb accumulates pollutants. With the dried out box and the rest of the new frames, I’ll be ready for a third hive. Hopefully these two are strong enough and I can make a split soon!

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I sold some Fall 2014 honey today, then turned around and put that straight into the purchase of two packages (pickup mid April). Today was the first sunny day in a long time, and though still freezing, it felt warm. It definitely felt warm after a good 40 minutes of shoveling to get to my hives.

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I dug the hives out of the snow.

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One I knew was still alive. The bees had been flying, who knows why, and perishing on their snowy front porch. One got as far as three feet. When I started digging to get their bottom entrance free, one flew out – didn’t even make it half a foot. When I opened that one, I found a tiny cluster against the ceiling (under the burlap): probably not enough to survive, but I’ll feed them more sugar anyway. The other one was dead.

It’s been a while since I blogged. The reasons were house guests over the holidays with whom we gladly dug in like hermits, eating wonderful home-cooked meals, playing board games with the kids when we could locate them, and reading books by the fire. Also, we watched Sharknado 2: The Second One together. It’s a ritual, better not to ask any further. And we played with Google Cardboard.

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I also prepared a lot for homeschooling, which started yesterday. Here we are at the beginning of our first day:

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That’s my newest excuse (for not cleaning too): homeschooling is taking up a lot of time, but it’s a blast and both Amie and I have taken to it. We go from 9 to 3, learning awesome stuff – as you can see, I’m also adopting nine-year-old vocab. We started a home school blog where both of us post every day (so far), but because Amie is also writing there we decided to keep it private to those whom she knows personally. As a long-time blogger I know how fraught with difficulties public blogging is, One of the issues is not knowing who one’s audience is and, this way, she can picture her readers which makes it easier for her to write.

I’ll be sure to write about homeschooling here (the homestead-related angle) as I slowly get my head above water. Scheduling is a challenge, also creating pockets of time when Amie can work by herself so I can do “my own” things, like blogging and Transition work (and cleaning). Though, admittedly, a lot of what I teach in home school is also “my thing”. For instance, I’m revisiting my beloved Latin and learning about the Big Bang and first life and the evolution of humans, with my daughter. How awesome is that? Ha.

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One more thing I love about homeschooling is that there is no rushing out the door, waiting in line, etc. We keep a tight schedule (start at 9 sharp), but our first day, for instance, we remained in PJs.

During our hour of lunch and recess we visit the chickens, feed them, collect eggs. Today we did so in gently falling snow. It’s good to be out in the fresh air, and the hens are so happy to see us with warm water and kitchen scraps.

I just went to check on them. Our chicken coop door opener is a fantastic little machine and ultra convenient, especially in the mornings. But we do check on it every evening after dark to make sure it closed and that all the hens made it inside before it did.

The moon is just over the cusp of full, very bright still, high in the black, naked sky. The Pleiades twinkled through her light, though not so much the Milky Way (which we learned about today). The shadows were very crisp on the fresh blanket of snow, creaking under my boots. It is 8 F (-13 C), and falling, falling to a predicted -5 F tomorrow night (that’s – 20.5 C).

There’s only one chicken I’m worried about: one of the Buff Orpingtons. She looks scruffy and her comb and wattles are pale. The bees I worry about constantly. I’ll check on them after this cold snap.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Okay, okay, I stole the title from my friend and fellow beek Kath – though her blog post title is “That’s a wrap” so technically it’s not the same.

Anyhoo. This is what we woke up to this morning:

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and

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and
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The photograph above I call “Terrestrial.”

…And so also

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I had been waiting for a colder day to wrap the hives. It’s a hassle and a hazard, driving staples into their boxes, hovering all around and getting real close to small openings with a pair of scissors, when the bees are flying. This morning, before the snow started melting away and the bees started exploring the newly warm temperatures, I went to perform the operation.

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I used tar paper all around, stapled to the boxes as strategic places, and on the north and west sides I added link insulation boards, held together by a strap. All together this took me half an hour.

This is all I can do for them now, except for check on the candy board and wood shavings once in a while.

Be well, bees!

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After a few warm days of observing the candy board supers on the hives, I started to suspect robbing in one (the one to the left). This one has Honey-Bee-Healthy in the candy, which might be the main tip-off to other bees that there are goodies to be had. The other hive, where I decided not to use the HBH, has much less bees hovering around it.

The main point of attack, if that is what it was, was the rather large hole I put into the super, right at the level of the candy, for ventilation and winter access. Luckily I kept the two blocks I had chiseled out of the super, and today I put those back into those holes.

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Ventilation and top access are not an issue yet, anyway. Also, the bees should be all set with the small hole in the entrance reducer at the bottom, since there is not much to forage, except for water – anywhere there is a puddle or some standing water in a bucket, the bees are there.

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Their castles should be eminently defensible now.

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.