Fifty/Fifty Making the Split

A short, very simplistic, primer on the life of a bee hive:

Step One: Bees come from somewhere: swarm, bought or split and begin making a hive.

Step Two: Queen does a mating flight and begins making baby bees (called brood) and we hope a whole bunch of them.

Step Three: All the bees work together to fill the hive space with brood and food and lots of bees.

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Not yet ready for splitting but a pretty good example of a healthy hive headed in that direction.

Step Four: Oops we got too many bees.

Step Five: If they have not already bees begin making Queen Cells.

Step Six: New Queen is born, old Queen take about half the hive and moves out, this is called a swarm.

Step Seven: See step one.

And that is how bees increase, ask somebody else about birds.

So today I am going to talk for a little while about how bee keepers control this natural cycle to make certain they keep their bees. It is called Swarm Management and Hive Splitting. The point is to catch the hive somewhere around Step Four and intervene before the Swarm Instinct has taken hold. Then you artificially split the hive so as to make two hives out of it.

We have a hive and man ain’t we proud of it. This hive is strong, well populated, clean and busy as…. well….. bees. You may be weeks or even days from a swarm. Bee hives reproduce themselves by swarming. It is a natural occurrence in a strong hive that is growing. Sooner or later part of the hive will break off, move and reestablish itself as a separate hive. What we want to do is control that instinct by moving them ourselves before the Swarm Instinct kicks in because once the girls start the process they will get it done.

If you want to be technical there are several viable ways to split hives. So far I have tried and succeeded at one way and that is what I am going to talk about. A disclaimer. Succeeded is defined as, they were alive and doing well day before yesterday when I looked. If all my writing on the subject has taught you or me nothing else it is that things can happen very fast in bee world.

If you want more information on Swarm Management and Splitting Hives I suggest you read starting on page 69 in your copy of First Lessons In Beekeeping or check out this.

We had one hive out of two make it through the winter. That was my goal for year one and this was year two. No plan survives initial contact. But I was happy about it and, further, the hive was strong and well populated. In May, after some discussion and research we split the hive. There are other ways and I will probably try a few of them if given an opportunity next spring but here is what we did.

First, we isolated the laying Queen for a little over a week. We did this by putting a Queen Excluder between the two deep hive boxes. It does not really matter whether Her Majesty is working in the top or the bottom box because now we have her where she can only lay in one box. By finding the box with uncapped brood in it we find where the Lady is laying.

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This is a Queen Excluder. Her Highness is bigger than the other bees and this keeps her on one side of the excluder.

When we checked we found two good things, there was uncapped brood in the bottom box which meant she was there, and there were Queen Cells in the top box. Russian bees have a habit of keeping “just in case” queen cells ready. If the queen is still viable she will not let them hatch. If not, or if it is time to swarm, she will. So we took the top box, placed it on a bottom, put a top piece on it, closed the front and we had the start of a new hive.

Next step, we separated the split from the original hive by about four miles. Two would have done nicely but four was the best we could do over two miles. Why two miles? A bee can travel up to a mile an a half from her hive, find something she wants like pollen, water or maybe her old hive, go back to where she came from and communicate these directions to her hive mates. Yeah, me too. That’s amazing. I worked with U. S. Army trained Reconnaissance Scouts who could not tell you the way to the latrine.

So we got the ladies more than two miles away and set them up in a pasture with already blooming clover, plenty of nearby water and other blooming plants all about. Then we waited. The split hive needed to stay away from the original hive at least two weeks. During that time I visited every couple of days and checked the feeders and the general condition of the bees. Both them and the original hive seemed to be doing well.

Lets talk Queens. You can buy a Queen and place her in your split hive. That will cut your delay on getting fresh brood by one to two weeks. What we did was just split them and let nature take its course. Depending on whether you have Queen Cells in your split and what condition they are in the delay to get a new Queen is going to be one to a little over two weeks. Then you have a one week delay while she is bred. Then you have a two week delay until your brood begins to hatch.

That is why it is important to have capped brood in your split and that is why your split will be behind your original hive no matter what you do. We got less than half the honey out of our split as we did the original but they had made and do have plenty for winter.

Oh, an oddity. Russian bees are normally pretty calm and not the least aggressive compared to most bees. For whatever reason these ladies are kind of “‘ttudenal” and will sting you right now. Hopefully they will get over it but I swear they are still mad at me about the split.

Ed

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Baking Bread

Welcome to the homestead kitchen, where we specialize in cooking from scratch, and using real food. Today we’re going to talk about bread. There is nothing quite like the smell of baking bread to bring people from all parts of the house to the kitchen with anticipatory smiles on their faces. Ask me how I know.

I also know the idea of baking bread can be intimidating, but don’t let it scare you too much. We’re going to have some fun!

There are two basic types of bread: Quick Breads and Yeast Breads.

Quick breads use baking powder and/or baking soda as a leavening agent. Biscuits, pancakes, cornbread, and nut breads are examples of quick breads. Today, specifically, we’re going to talk about biscuits.

When I was twelve years old, I started visiting my dad and step mom in Georgia during the summer. My step mom, Dot, is a traditional southern cook, and her fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits are to die for. I watched her, in fascination, as she formed each biscuit by hand (without a biscuit cutter), leaving a pan of biscuits that looked like they came out of a machine, but tasted like they came out of heaven.

It was years before I actually tackled it myself, and no, mine don’t look like hers. None of my bread is “pretty”. It just isn’t. I must not hold my mouth right or something. It does however, taste good.

Baking powder biscuits just need a few things: flour, salt, baking powder and a liquid. If your liquid is butter milk, you will also need baking soda. Dot always used self rising flour, which has the leavening included, but I don’t. I use plain white flour, and sometimes, if it’s in the budget, I’ll use some whole wheat or spelt flour too.

So, let’s get started shall we?

First, we need flour. I’m using four cups of all purpose flour, to which I will add two teaspoons of salt, four teaspoons of baking powder and a half teaspoon of baking soda. I use a whisk to mix it all together.

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Whisk the dry ingredients together

Then I add a cup of shortening. You can use whatever solid shortening you have on hand. Today I used what was left from some Crisco that I had for something else. Usually, I stay away from vegetable shortening because I don’t think it’s good for you, but I had it and I needed to use it up. Otherwise I would use butter or lard. I mix it in with a pastry blender until it looks like course crumbs .

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Adding the shortening

Next comes the buttermilk. The recipe would call for two cups, but it really depends on your flour, so I start with one and a half cups and add more if I need it. Mix well.

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this was still a little dry so I added more buttermilk

Now, you need to put your dough out on a floured surface. I use newspapers, because it cuts down on the mess. I can just roll it up and throw it away when I’m finished. You can roll the dough out with a rolling pin or pat it out by hand. You can use a biscuit cutter and cut them out, or you can pinch off pieces and roll them between your hands. I do the latter.

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my floured surface

Put your rolled pieces on a greased baking sheet, sides touching.

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ready to go

Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until brown on the top.

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Ready to eat!

See, they aren’t pretty, but they sure were good! There were only two left after breakfast, and all four of us were home for breakfast.

Baking bread can seem like a daunting undertaking, but don’t let that put you off. Like many things, it just takes some practice. My great grandma Marie said of her bread making experience. “My neighbor asked me, ‘How’d your bread turn out Marie?’ I said, ‘right out there in that trash can!’” Grandma didn’t give up though and by the time I came along she was an experienced bread baker. When I was about 13, after what seems like months of begging, she finally agreed to teach me how to make the bread she only made for family get togethers at fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yeast Breads use yeast as a leavening agent. The yeast can come from a package or from the air as it does with sourdough bread. I haven’t mastered sourdough bread yet, so we won’t cover that today. I’ll keep working on it though and I’ll share what I’ve learned with you when I do. I buy my yeast at the store. Since I make a lot of it, I buy it in jars instead of the little envelopes.

Yeast breads really only need yeast, flour and a liquid, but if you want it to have a nice texture and taste you need to add a few more things, like shortening and salt. You can add sugar and eggs too, depending on what kind of yeast bread you’re making. Yeast bread recipes can also be used to make rolls and cinnamon rolls.

The bread that I make on a weekly basis actually comes from the book “A Cabin Full of Food”, by Marie Beausoleil at Just Plain Living, so I’m not going to actually share a recipe for yeast bread, but I will show you the basics that apply to any type of yeast bread baking.

One thing I do that is different is that I use a bread bowl. I found this one in a flea market several years ago. It saves a lot of the mess of having that “floured surface” on your table or counter, because you can knead your bread right in the bowl.
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Ok, the first thing you have to do is get your liquid hot enough to melt your shortening. If you’re using water, that means boil it. Liquid can be water, milk, potato water, and probably a few other things I haven’t thought of. Your shortening can be oil, butter, vegetable shortening, lard, and a combination of those things. Grandma’s bread used both butter and vegetable shortening. Like her, I only make that at the holidays.

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This is a half stick of butter. I just wanted to give you an idea of the size of this bowl.

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boiling water and butter

Then you have to let the liquid cool to luke warm. 105 degrees is what you’re looking for so you can add the yeast. You want the little yeasts to be cozy. Dried yeast is actually a dormant bacteria. When you put it in the warm water it wakes up. If the water is too cool, they take too long, and if it’s too hot, they die. So it has to be “just right”. It will feel just barely warm to the touch. Now at this stage, you can also add some sugar, or other natural sweetener. If you do, let it sit for about five minutes before you do anything else. That gives the yeast a chance to get good and awake, and start eating the sugar. You’ll know they’re working because your liquid will start to look bubbly.

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bubble bubble

Now stir in your flour and any other ingredients. You want a sticky looking dough. This is called the sponge. You can let the dough rest for 30 minutes to an hour at this point.

Now comes the fun part. You want to put your dough out on a floured work surface, or add flour to your bread bowl.

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flour in the bowl with the sponge

You want to work in enough flour to where the dough is smooth and elastic. You do this by pressing down on the dough, folding it over, and pressing down again. When it sticks to the work surface or your hands, you add more flour. Kneading like this can take anywhere between eight and fifteen minutes. You cannot over knead. Grandma always said you have to let the bread know who’s the boss!

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All kneaded

Some recipes may have you let the dough rise until double at this point, before you do anything else (like my grandma’s recipe) or it might have you form the bread into loaves and put it into greased pans before you let it rise. If you put it in pans you will only have one rising before you bake it.

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Ready to Rise

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Ready to Bake

After the dough has risen, you bake it in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or so, until the tops are golden brown and they sound hollow when you tap the bottoms.

I didn’t get a picture when they came out of the oven. This was taken later after the first loaf was already gone.

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All baked. 

Well, I hope I haven’t scared you off too badly, and I do hope you try your hand at baking bread.

Connie

Wild About Wild Bees Part 3

So we are at the last of a three part series on our taking a bee hive out of an abandon house adventure. Let me give you the big spoiler. Before the end of summer we lost the hive to wax moths. What are wax moths you ask? This tells you better than I can.

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This is what brood comb looks like after a visit from wax moth larvae.

Essentially they are a moth whose larvae burrows through the wax and eats the pollen and brood destroying the hive. A strong hive can control and defeat wax moths and there in lay our problem. When we brought the bees home, we likely brought the wax moths with us. We also reduced the bee population, caused a break in the birth cycle of the bees, and led to a situation where the moths could overcome the weakened hive.

Another time in my life where I learned from my mistakes, but another suffered for them. I always regret that, but at least it is even more motivation to not make the same mistake again. So let me do an after action review and tell you what we will do differently next time the opportunity presents itself.

I will do a reconnaissance of the site before we go out to it. This is another one of those things where I did not transfer general experience from my past into a new thing I am doing in the present. I KNOW that, given an opportunity, you do not go into an unknown situation without first seeing the objective. Had I done that, I would have had a much better idea of what I had to bring.

I will obtain and take a vacuum cleaner with adjustable suction with me and, if available, with battery power. This would have been essential to gather up even half of the bees present.

I will take more hive boxes than I believe I need. I thought I did that this time, but I was way over matched on equipment to transport the bees.

I will start earlier in the day. First because I have learned that bees are more docile early in the morning or late in the evening, and second for the sake of coolness.

Since this is short I will end with a little photo essay of our last couple visits to the girls. We came away with about thirty pounds of honey from one hive but the other two, who got a later start, have not capped everything else so I will check them again next week.

The reasons the other two hives, though strong, are behind is that they started with less, being a new hive and a split, and this awful drought we have suffered.

We are getting to the point where we are going to have to prep for winter so next week will be the dead line.

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I have always loved honey in the comb. To do that you have to set the frame up without any foundation in it. You insert a couple of Popsicle sticks in the groves where the foundation goes and stick them with wax. The bees do the rest. I did one frame a hive.

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One of the reasons my no foundation frame did not work last year was Her Highness got up in the Super and laid brood in it. What you are looking at is a Queen Excluder.  Because Milady is bigger than the other bees she cannot fit through.

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This is interesting. In one of the deeps I guess I forgot to put in a frame. Think that stopped the girls? No way, they just made comb and honey anyway.

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BEES!!! I do not believe the ladies are very happy with me.

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That look of pain on my face has nothing to do with the bees except their added weight. A deep hive box full of brood and honey is HEAVY.  Did I mention how old I am?

Ed

 

 

Repurposing on the Homestead

Y’all know I like junk, and I’m all about using what I have to make do.

Well, ever since we moved here four years ago (after I recovered from my accident), I’ve wanted a spot out in the detached garage to work on repurposing projects that were either too big, or too dirty to bring into the house.  At the same time, I had an idea for creating a table that would rotate, using some stuff we had out in the barn.

Well, about a month ago, we finally got the garage cleaned out enough for me to have my spot.  Since then, had been been moving stuff out there, and realized again, that I really needed a table. From the other times Ed and I (and Number One Son) had discussed it, I also knew that I needed a piece of plywood to join the two pieces from the barn. Extra plywood is not in the budget right now.

Well, a couple days ago, I was doing something totally unrelated in the house (I don’t even remember what it was), when suddenly, I remembered I had a piece of plywood that would probably work. To be honest, when something hits me like that, I’m not taking credit. That has to be the Lord.   Anyway, I used to do cake decorating many years ago, and I used pieces of plywood as supports for larger cakes. I knew I still had one left, I just had to remember where I put it. Thankfully, it didn’t take long to find, and I showed it to Ed to see if he thought it would work. He did.

I think it was later that day that he and I went to the barn to gather the other materials. One was a round table top, and the other was the base from a swivel bar stool.  The table top was from a bunch of stuff that was given away after a yard sale. The bar stool base was here when we moved in.

Anyway, putting the whole thing together took about 15 minutes and didn’t cost us anything. We already had the necessary screws too.  I should say that the table top is actually particle board, so I don’t expect it to last forever, but it will do for what I need for now, and I’m thankful for it.

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Ed attaching the plywood to the table top

Looking at what remains of stenciled lettering on the plywood that I used for a cake base, I remembered where it came from. It’s from a sign that was made for a cub scouting event when my boys were in cub scouts, so it’s probably about twenty-two years old.  I got the board not too long after that. I stopped doing cakes like that about 19 years ago. Yeah, I don’t throw much away.

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close up of the plywood

Here is a picture of the bar stool base. You’ll notice the bee hive supers in the back ground. Ed had painted them and they were drying.  Further back in the picture are some old computers that Bam Bam is taking apart.  I’ll probably get whats left when he gets what he wants out of  them.

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bar stool base

There are holes in the base for screwing on the seat that will work perfectly for screwing it onto the table.

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See the holes at the ends of the cross bars?

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attaching the base. Notice the vitamin bottle on the work bench next to the table top? Those are great for keeping small screws.

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All done!

I have to tell you that I kept wondering about the pictures I was taking in the garage. It seemed like they were a little out of focus, or light was coming from someplace that I wasn’t accounting for. However, after taking pictures this morning, I realized what it was. There was something on the lens (Duh). Probably honey from the pictures I took out at the hives last week.

Here’s a picture of the table that I took this morning. I’ve been using it for about a week now.  It’s all ready for the next repurposing project!

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Ready to play!

Next week, Ed will bring you more about our bees. We should have our honey harvest done by then too. We’re also working on posts about the chickens and their new coop, and I’m working on some stuff for the “homestead kitchen”.

Come back and see us!

Connie

Wild about Wild Bees: Part Two of Three Parts

So the last we spoke, Connie and I were beginning to, for the first time, try to pull wild bees out of the walls of a dilapidated old house that was soon to be torn down. You can find all that here.

The house was lathe and plaster walled and there was no electricity in it. Good luck as much as good planning, my sawzal was battery powered, and yes I had brought extra batteries. But where, exactly are the bees? I had proven that they were as far down the wall as two foot or so from the floor and as far up the wall as at least six feet. What about side to side.

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This is the wall I will be working with. In the video you will see a two foot wide swath cut out from floor to ceiling and all of it full of hive.

As we faced the wall, to the left was limited by the window sill and the necessary framing that would go with it. From prior experience, I knew most houses were framed at two feet on center. Experimentally I went looking for some framing at two feet from the window and found a two by four there.

Now I had a box that went from at least the ceiling to the floor and was two feet wide. That seemed like a natural place to find the hive so, between the two foot up and six feet up, I made a cut just inside and searching for the framing two by four. Once I found it I cut open a small area.

That was when I began to get a hint of how amazed I was about to be. I took my small pry bar and a hammer and began to pull back the lathe and plaster wall. There was no need to be overly neat because they were going to tear the house down anyway. First I went up from the two foot mark to the six foot.

Between the two by fours spaced two feet on center packed as deep as it could go and all of the four feet length there was hive. That would be about twenty inches wide and four inches deep by four feet long or about two and a quarter cubic feet of hive and brood just covered with bees.

That would be the ones that were not on me.

And that as not all of it. Over a period of time we uncovered up closer to the ceiling and  from the two foot point to about a foot under the floor. All of it was filled with hive starting with the oldest near the entrance hole and the newest nearer the ceiling. Here, let me see if I can show you:

I have a reaction when I come into close contact with God’s magnificent engineering and actions in nature or in man. First I am awed of course. Next I am strangely happy, almost childishly so. Some kind of “I just knew you were there God.” moment. Then I am simply humbled by the works of God. Add to that the fact that we were hopelessly over matched today.

So when you cannot do it all you do the best you can. Finding the Queen by any normal means would have be pretty near impossible, most of the comb was empty because it was early spring and there was very little honey.

Connie and I decided to get all the brood comb we could find and put that in the hive box which we had brought. Suddenly the bees began to quit attacking us and settled back into the comb with some coming and voluntarily landing in the box. We gathered as much as we could, sealed the box and put it in the truck.

Nine countable stings and one box of bees with way too many left behind, we were on the way home. Already we, both of us being veterans, were A. A. R’ing the whole thing. (After Action Reviewing). As we rode home and drank water. We both agreed we would do better next time.

In part three I will talk about our AAR and the ultimate outcome of our first attempt. If any apiarist who have something add reads this, please feel free to critique me in comments. I have had my faults explained to me by Drill Sergeants, you will not hurt my feelings and you may help me and the bees next time.

 

Late Summer Foraging and Plant ID

Officially, we are still at D4-Exceptional drought levels, but we did get some significant rain this last week. Depending on who you ask, we got somewhere between four and seven inches. Thank you Lord for that!

In my last post, I said that I had seen some different “weeds” this summer probably due to the drought. Maybe when the less drought tolerant plants don’t make it, room is left for these guys. Anyway, it’s always exciting to see new stuff.

Speaking of new stuff. Someone in the wild edible Facebook page I belong to, told me about this phone app called Picture This. When you come across a plant you don’t recognize, you can take take a picture of it, and the app will try to identify it. Most of the time, it gives you a few possibilities, with the first one most likely. If nothing else,  that means you have a place to start from. I’ve been having a great time playing with it!

This cannot be said often enough: If you do not know, with 100% certainty, what a plant is, don’t eat it! It could be fine, or it could kill you. By the way, all the pictures in this post were taken with either my camera or my phone.  With one exception, they were all taken somewhere on our place.

This is spurge. You DON’T want to eat it. It will give you a bad stomach ache and all the nasty stuff that goes along with that.

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spurge

This however, is purslane, and it is good for you.

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purslane

Here is a very good blog post with some good pictures that can give you more detailed info about the two. For me, purslane leaves look shiny and rubbery like succulents. They often grow close together, so once you know the difference, it’s pretty easy to tell them apart. An interesting side note is that, often edible plants and their poisonous look alikes grow close together. Another look alike for spurge (and as far I know this isn’t edible either) is knot weed. This grows all over my yard. I think makes great ground cover. I would like it better if it was edible.

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knot weed

When we got rid of the giant ragweed last spring, this came up in its place. It’s called “Lambs Quarters, or Pig Weed or Wild Spinach…anyway. You can eat it. It’s a cousin to amaranth. As a matter of fact, several years ago, when we lived in Independence, I planted some amaranth. When it came up, my ex-husband saw it and asked me why I planted pig weed.

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pig weed

Taking a walk with Ed the other day, we came across these. Yep. Elderberries. They are along the road, and I don’t know if they were sprayed (although they probably weren’t), so we didn’t pick any. You gotta be careful with roadside finds for that reason. Many places want to get rid of the “weeds” along the road, so they spray poison. You don’t want to eat that! We’ve lost some of our own elderberry bushes this summer, while others seem to be doing very well. It well be a few years before ours produce anything though.

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elderberries

This is sumac. No this isn’t the poison sumac. The berries and seeds are edible. Green Deane at Eat the Weeds has a great article about sumac. Going to have to play with this one if I can get to it. Taking the picture was kind of a challenge.

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Sumac bush. You can see a  cluster of fruit/seeds in the center of the picture and another one off to the right.

This is milk weed. Butterflies love it, but the leaves are poisonous for us. The Spruce  has some good information about milk weed, including the fact that caterpillars can eat the poisonous leaves and thrive, while becoming poisonous themselves to any potential predator.

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milk weed and guest

This is pepper grass. It’s growing out in front of our detached garage. I had to hold my camera down at ground level in order to get a decent picture. The leaves have a peppery taste, and the seeds can be ground and used like black pepper. Green Deane says the roots mixed with vinegar makes a great horseradish substitute. Ed and Bam Bam would love that. Chicken girl and I, not so much. You all know I’m going to have to play with it anyway, right?

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pepper  grass growing in the gravel

This stuff is growing everywhere around the house. It’s called Hornbeam Copperleaf, and as of yet, I can find no good use for it. If you do, let me know.

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hornbeam copperleaf

These were out in the dog pen. Don’t know enough about fungi to even venture a guess. I did ask about it, and couldn’t get a definitive answer, so we pulled them up and disposed of them. Don’t think the dogs would eat them, but you never know with Meeko. He eats ragweed leaves.

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Some kind of fungi. Notice the spurge at the bottom of the picture

This is…yes, it’s corn. We didn’t plant it. It’s out where the chicken pen was a few years ago, so we figure those were some seeds the chickens didn’t get. Don’t really expect it to do anything, but we’ll see. Morning glories are coming up around it. Talk about invasive! Morning glories are the worst! Even if they are pretty.

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Corn. See the morning glories kind of circled behind it?

This is called a hummingbird vine. Someone had to have planted it, because it originates in Mexico and South America.  It’s invasive too. It’s pretty, but it’s unruly. Good thing I like the wild look huh. Still if it gets too wild, I’ll have to cut it back.

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hummingbird vine

The wild cherries are gone as far as I can tell, but the grapes are hanging in. xs_1534532720530_resized

We have a ton of juniper berries, but still don’t know what to do with them besides making gin and I’m not doing that.

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juniper berries

Of course we still have plantain, dandelion, chicory, mallow, and goldenrod.

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goldenrod

Remember when we were talking about mint and I said that it’s super invasive and that’s why a lot of people don’t plant it directly in the ground? Well, I guess it doesn’t do well in drought, because I only have about three stalks of mint in my yard and they didn’t get very big. Maybe it will come back now that we have some water.

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What’s left of my mint.

For the second year in a row, we have a volunteer pumpkin growing under the maple tree in the front yard. It starts so late that it won’t be big enough before it gets cold. At least it wasn’t last year.

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volunteer pumpkin blooming

Next week, Ed we’ll be back to tell you more about our experience with the wild hive. It was awesome!

Hey, if you like our blog, please share the love with your friends!

Have a great week!

Connie

Wild about Wild Bees Part One of Three Parts

A friend contacted me about a friend of his who was tearing down a house that was full of wild honey bees. Did I want to try to get them out?

Time and money are limited commodities. Let me promise you that I have much more time than money. So when I am offered the opportunity to put together a bee hive for a little bit of work, I am right there to do it.

I said, “Absolutely”. Then set out to learn how to do it. The first rule of learning anything new is that it is never as simple as you might believe. The second rule is that it is never as complicated as those who are trying to tell you how to do it make it out to be.

When I learn about electricity I really do not know it until I get shocked. Probably more than once. Most of my life has been fly by the seat of my pants experience and, beside the seat getting a little threadbare, I see no reason to stop now.

So what did I do?

1. I contacted people who knew something about what I was going to do to ask for their advice. Never turn down free advice, it is at least worth what you paid for it. What I learned from this is that you are essentially pulling the hive, comb, brood, honey (if any) and bees out and taking it with you. Easier said than done. One piece of advice I ignored was to use a vacuum with a variable or low setting to gather up the bees. I will do that next time.

One thing I learned which made me delay the whole procedure was not to try moving a hive too early in the spring because they were still weak from winter so I talked to the owner and he agreed to wait about a month.

Also, I learned that pulling a hive of bees out of a dwelling or tree has a pretty low success rate even for experienced beekeepers.

2. I read about it. The two reference books I reach for most are First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith S. Delaplane (in the tradition of C. D. Dadant’s 1917 original) and Homegrown Honey Bees by Alethea Morrison. There are others, that might be better, but these work for me.

3. Yes, I went on YouTube. Who doesn’t? If you find yourself needing to do kitchen table brain surgery I suggest you check YouTube. They probably have a video about that. So I watched the videos I could find and learned what I could.

There is an old military saying, “Amateurs study tactics and strategy while professionals study logistics.” That is because no matter how well you plan you must have what you need when you get there or you cannot complete the mission. So we checked and double checked what we took with us.

First, of course, something to put the bees in, I took one deep hive box and, just to be certain, a Nuc Box. Also, safety equipment for two people. Second, this was an old house so I would need to get into the wall that would require a saw (I took two; one battery operated sawzall and one  hand saw), two different styles of pry bar, and basic carpentry tools.

I did not know if I was going to go in from the outside or the inside. My “plan” was to work from the inside but the situation would dictate which way I went.

So Connie and I went over our list, tried to assure we had everything and I loaded the truck the night before because, military again, nobody ever gave me extra duty for getting there early.

The next morning we got in the truck and, thanks to Google, got there without any trouble. Here comes another old military adage referred to as Murphy’s First Law of Combat which says, “No plan survives initial contact with the enemy.”

The house was a very dilapidated old structure. My guess would be late 19th or early 20th century frame house with one and a half stories. Approaching the house, even in my two wheeled drive truck, was no issue because the owner had cut a rough track in with some form of tractor.

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Looks pretty rough right? That window back there is our only viable entrance. 

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Here is another view. Bet this was a really nice house back when I was a kid. 

After we got parked and before we prepared to approach the bees, we did a little reconnaissance around the house where we found an old hand pump well and, just up and right of it about two and a half feet up the outside of the house, the bee’s entrance. So, from the window above the well, the entrance was two feet left and two and a half feet up from the floor. Easy enough to find from the inside.

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That brown spot on the wall there, that is the bee’s entrance. Beside it is an old well pump and well which I am surprised Connie did not make me take with us. 

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The entrance when we got there. 

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Now it is cleared enough to get in and out and I am getting equipment inside. 

Next, we reconned the way in and out. We were looking at a floor strewn with junk, broken glass, old furniture, etc. Our entry was through a broken out window. More glass, more junk. So my next job was to make certain we had a clear path in and out as best I could because we were going to have to step over that window sill no matter what.

I did all this with Connie’s help and we still were not suited up for the bees because they seemed not very concerned about our human foolishness. Having cleared everything that we could out of our way and having moved our necessary gear into the room we got ready and entered “suited, booted and ready for war”.

We went into the room and found the walls were lathe and plaster: a process of finishing walls and ceilings used up until the late 1950s. This might make things a tad harder, but I had a sawsall with two batteries. I was good on that. There were no bees flying around inside the house but there were a lot of dead bees in the window sill to the left of where we were working.

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There are bees in that wall. We had no idea how many. 

The first thing I did was experimentally drive a nail puller into the wall above my head to see how sturdy it all was. The nail puller drove into the wall but the wall seemed fairly sturdy. So I found and marked the spot inside the was about where the bees were coming in and out outside then I started preparing the sawzall to do a little work when I noticed that I now had bees flying around my head.


So where did they come from? I looked around the room then Connie pointed up. My knock with the nail puller had been a bit more productive than I thought. Bees were pouring out of the hole I made and were not the least bit amused.

So it begins.

Drought!

According to Drought.gov, as of August 14, our portion of Missouri is in an “exceptional” drought or “D4”. That is as high as the scale goes. As of the end of July, our recorded rainfall was 13.4 inches below our yearly average. There is a lot of praying for rain going on here. I heard a few weeks ago, that a county official was calling area churches asking the congregations to pray for rain. It’s that serious. The Lord has been answering those prayers, because we have had some rain, and yesterday we had a nice slow drizzle. We still have a long way to go though.

This creek is up the road from our house.  I took this picture a couple weeks ago. As you can see it is dry.

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nothing but mud and trash

This picture was taken yesterday. There is a little water in it, but it is still low. Just past the other end of our road, the same creek crosses under the road again. That end is damp, but there is no standing water.

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a little better

So what does a homesteader do during a drought? First we pray for rain. Second, we need to have back up plans for water. We haven’t done too well in that department. In some ways, we did better with it at the place we rented before we bought this place. The house in Independence literally sat on a rock. It was on the side of a cliff, and the dirt was only a few inches deep. There was no city water hookup and no well, so water was brought in and kept in a cistern. One load of water usually lasted about a week, as long as we were careful, and we were very careful, watching the water levels in the cistern closely. I think it only went dry on us one time in the four years we lived there. Running out of water completely was bad on two fronts. One, the obvious one, we were out of water. Two, turning on the pump, which is what happens when you turn on a faucet or flush a toilet, when there is no water, can burn up your pump. Then you have a really big problem. Anyway, we were careful.

So, when we decided we wanted a garden, we had to build box gardens, because there was no soil to speak of. Then, in order to keep it watered, we built a rain barrel to catch rain water. Of course, those years, we had rain. It worked beautifully. I only remember carrying water from the house two or three times.

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Ed and our box gardens at the house in Independence

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Ed with our blue rain barrel. Notice the jugs on the ground underneath the barrel. Those are old kitty litter containers that we used to carry water from the barrel to the garden.

When we were considering buying this place, we were both excited to learn that, yes, the house was on city water, but there was also a well that was used to water stock. Awesome right? Well, yes, there is a well. I’ve showed you pictures of it before. It’s an old, open, stacked stone well, that has a pump running down into it. However, it looks like someone tried to fill it in, and all the wiring to the pump has been stripped.

These pictures were taken right after we moved in.

The well and pump

The well on the left and some part of the pump system on the right.

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As you can see, all the wiring has been damaged. When we first saw it, it was full of yellow jackets!

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Looking down the well. You can see the water past all limbs, etc.

These pictures were taken this morning.

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Yes, it’s in there somewhere.

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Looking in. Ed said it was damp, but he couldn’t see any standing water.

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Overgrown here too

There are spigots outside the barn and at a few other places on the property, but they are old and do not turn. The one outside the barn is competing with a mulberry tree, and losing.

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The spigot and hose outside the barn

There is what is probably a cistern outside the detached garage, but it is covered with a cement slab that would take a tractor or a pair of mules to move.

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Possibly a cistern

We made plans to fix all that, and install our rain barrel that we brought with us.

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The rain barrel today.

Have we done any of that? No.

So, here we are, four years later, in a serious drought. County officials have asked that we use water for people and livestock only. Our trees seem to be hanging on, and we have had just enough rain lately, to keep our little bit of garden alive. It isn’t producing well though. In addition to the super dry and hot conditions, there have been pests I’ve never seen before, like Blister Beetles.

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Blister Beetle Image from blog-yard-garden-news.extension.umn.edu

The did a number on my tomato plants before I discovered them. Then I dusted with diatomaceous earth and haven’t seen them lately. I’ve also seen wild plants I’ve never seen here either, but I’ll save that for another post.

What should we have done? We should have cleaned out the well, fixed the pump and got the water tested. Even if we couldn’t drink it, we could have watered plants with it. Then we should have repaired and/or replaced the spigots at the barn and pastures. We should have fixed our rain barrel (the spigot is missing), got more barrels and set up a rainwater harvesting system. The University of Missouri Extension has an interesting three page PDF about rainwater harvesting. Lastly, we should have opened that cistern, repaired it if we needed to, and used it to store whatever water we harvested.

A couple weeks ago, I was talking to a neighbor who has lived in his house for about 30 years. This year, for the first time, he opened his cistern and pumped out what he thinks is 30 year old water, to water his garden. He doesn’t ever remember it being this dry, but he did have a backup plan, didn’t he?

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. The good thing is that we can still do those things, some of them will just take a little more work than they would have four years ago. Guess what just got moved up on the priority list after fixing the chicken coops? We’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

Connie

Minding Your Own Beesness

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Me in my bee suit with some of my tools. Nothing major happening, just visiting the girls and checking conditions.

Start with this simple fact. If you buy a nucleus of bees and the necessary hive equipment, you are going to be out around three hundred and fifty bucks. Ouch right? This being my third year working with bees I have put out, just for start up equipment, about nine hundred bucks.

You can purchase boxes of bees, I discussed what all that means in another post, and that will save you plus or minus seventy-five bucks a hive. The down side to boxes is that they do not provide an active “mini-hive” like the nucleus does, so it takes longer for your hive to get grounded, start producing brood and honey, and get stronger.

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This is a box of bees.

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This is a nucleus of bees. Called a nuc.

Buying your way to an apiary is expensive, so what can you do about that? Basically there are three strategies to grow your apiary without have to sell the children to the circus. They are as follows:

Split Hives: Take a strong over populated hive, catch it before it begins to swarm and split it in half.

Trap Bees: Set out your basic bee traps and capture bees who are swarming.

Remove bees for others: People often have trouble with bees, but these days are more aware of the declining bee population. So, rather than kill them, they want people to come take them away.

This year so far, I have been involved in two out of three of these methods with mixed success. Over my next three posts, I will talk about all three, starting with taking out a hive at someone’s request.  Then I’ll talk about splitting, and finally, the one I haven’t done yet but want to very much: trapping swarms.

First allow me to update you about the general condition of the bees. We started the spring with one hive that had made it through the winter. No one was more surprised or happy than me. After losing both hives to beetles the year before,, and one hive to unknown causes during the winter, one success was just wonderful.

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This is a look at the bottom deep (there are two) in my newest hive. The deeps are where the Queen lays the brood and where the bees put their honey. The supers, smaller boxes, are for our honey.  Note the little plastic thingy upper right as you look at it. That is a beetle trap. So far no problems but you are going to see lots of beetle traps in my hives.

I ordered one more nucleus of Russian Bees during the spring. During the summer, the surviving hive was split. We also gained a hive though taking bees out of a house. I will talk about splitting and pulling out bees in the next two posts.

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About 2:00 PM: even the busy bees are lazy on days this hot.

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Not a great picture but an improntu waterer. Experience has taught me you have to have some place for the bees to land because bees are not great swimmers. I have learned since this, that you really need to move it a little further from the hives, because bees do not forage right outside their door.

This summer has been very hot and dry. I am at the point where I am going to be putting out water for the bees. Today we are over 90 degrees and, as you can see by these pictures, nobody wants to go outside. Not the bees and not me. Maybe as it cools off.

 

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Hard working ladies and pretty honey. But this is all theirs.

But I looked late last week and everybody was fat and sassy, with some of the prettiest honey I have ever seen. I will check them tomorrow morning, and see how that is going. When I post another in this series, it will be about pulling bees out of places for other people, and trying to start a hive or hives from them.
This was my first try at that so I will be able to tell you about all kinds of things I did wrong, and hopefully you can avoid my mistakes.

Ed

 

Endangered Skill 8: Making Do With What You Have

Much of what we have talked about in this series of Eight Endangered Skills can be summed up with the phrase “making do”. It means using what you have to meet your needs. When the people we know as the pioneers made their way across this country in covered wagons, they built their homes in places where there were no stores, and the neighbors were miles away. All they had was what they brought with them in that wagon, and what they could get from the land around them. They had to make do with what was available to them. Learning how to do that was often a matter of life and death.

Those lessons were passed down to their children, and in many cases, forgotten when life got easier. Many of our our grandparents and great-grandparents relearned them from living through the Great Depression. Again, those lessons have largely been forgotten. We really need to work on reeducating ourselves.

Today, for most of us, especially here in America, it is pretty easy to just go buy what we need. Even if we can’t get it today, we’ll be able to on pay day, right? Well, what if we couldn’t? What if there was no money to go to the store, and there wasn’t going to be any soon? Worse yet, what if there was no store to go to even if we had money? Then what do we do? Well, no, we’re not living that scenario now, and we may not any time soon, but I wouldn’t want to wait until we are, to figure out what I might need to do to survive.

While money is available, at its simplest, making do means spending frugally, and living within your means. Don’t spend what you don’t have. Get out of debt and stay out. If you don’t NEED it, don’t buy it. Just in case some of you need a refresher on needs and wants, let’s put it this way: You need to eat, you don’t need to eat ice cream. You may want to eat ice cream, but you don’t need it. Seriously think about your wants and needs. Do you need new shoes now, or do you just want a new pair. Can you fix what you have? If not then by all means, go buy it, but be a smart shopper and look for real value. That might even mean spending a little more for something that will last a lot longer. Buy the best you can afford, but make sure you can afford it. Buying “cheap” can really cost in the long run. There is an old saying that goes “you get what you pay for”, and it’s true.

Closely related to spending frugally is to take good care of what you have. Make sure you eat that healthy food that you bought. Having to throw out food because it spoiled before we ate it is super frustrating for me. It’s like pouring money down the drain, or into the compost pile. Buy the best food you can afford, or better yet, learn to grow it, preserve it and cook it yourself. Yes, that might mean spending some money initially, but you will save much more in the long run. Take good care of your belongings. Put tools away when you’re finished with them instead of leaving them somewhere where they might be lost, or ruined (like out in the yard where they can be rained on or run over!). I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Let me stop here and say that Ed and I are just as guilty as anyone else about this. We try to be good stewards of what God’s given us, but we don’t always succeed. When we don’t, we try to learn from our mistakes and do better next time. We still have a long way to go, but we’re working on it.

One of Ed’s favorite phrases that he picked up in the Army is “improvise, adapt, and overcome”. That is the next part of making do. If you don’t have it, and can’t buy it, you need to use what you have. Many cooks know how to make “emergency substitutions” of missing ingredients. How do you make substitutions for other ingredients you might not have? You use ingredients you do have. You can learn to substitute what you don’t have with something you do in just about any situation. One of my friends told me once about someone using the soles of old shoes to replace broken hinges on a screen door.

My dad says that when he needs something, he makes it. What he is saying is that when he can’t get what he needs, he makes something that will work from what he already has. In order for that to work though, he must have stuff to work with. You have no idea how much stuff he has , but we’ll get to that in a bit.

In order to make do with what you have, you need to have something to make do with. So, the first thing you need to do is think before you throw something away. Ask yourself if that item might be used for some other purpose. If it might, hang on to it. Now before some of you freak out on me, I’m not suggesting that you never throw anything away. There are some things that need to be thrown out, but probably not near as much as you might think. We live in a throw away society, and it’s to our detriment.

Yes, you can take keeping stuff to the extreme. (You can take anything to an unhealthy extreme). I have to make myself purge my supply of junk on occasion before it takes over the house, the garage and the barn, but the thing is that when I need to improvise, I can usually find something that will work. My grandpa (Mom’s dad) was the same way, and he went overboard with what he kept, but he was very, very good at improvising.

There are many advantages to this type of making do. One is that we save money.  Another is that we learn to be creative. Once you start exercising that creative muscle, you’ll be amazed at how well you can improvise. A third is that we start to be appreciative of what we have.  The more we appreciate what we have, the less we need something more.

In addition to hanging onto some “trash”, you also need to think about learning how to repair what breaks, instead of throwing it away and buying a new one. We’ve already talked about this in another endangered skills post.  This also includes learning how to darn socks, sew on buttons, patch clothes, etc. Then when those clothes really do wear out, you can use the rags for other purposes, like rag dolls, rag rugs, or just cleaning rags.

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Last winter I made this rag rug for Bam Bam’s room in the basement. It’s made from old flannel sheets, and it’s great for keeping his feet off that cold basement floor.

You could even take it further and learn about appliances and electronics. Not only might you be able to repair things yourself, you could gain an understanding of how the parts work together, and what else might work instead. Bam Bam is really good at that. If you have an aptitude for that kind of thing, you might even build yourself a side business from it. Bartering is always a good way to make do. You trade something you have, or a skill you posses for something you need.

Back to my dad. He was on his own, for the most part, from the time he was about 13, and he learned early how to make do with what he had. Still functionally illiterate, everything he has learned came by watching, listening, and asking questions. He repaired shoes, dug ditches, ran construction equipment and built silos. For many years he worked in what he calls “salvage and demolition”. He and his partner tore down old buildings by hand. Sometimes, he was told he could have whatever was left in the building. In addition to that, he brought home anything from the building that was salvageable. Any time he sees something on the side of the road, he brings it home. He rebuilt an entire house from salvaged materials, and sold it. Last summer, Ed, Chicken Girl and I went to visit my dad in Georgia. It was the first time I had been there in 20 years. It hadn’t really changed that much, there was just more stuff.

He has a workshop down the hill from the house, and then he has other storage buildings that for the most part, aren’t buildings. They are things people wanted rid of, and he was happy to take them off their hands.

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This picture was taken from the car port near the house. The house down the hill is actually Dad’s workshop.  This is the tip of the iceberg.

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Closer to the work shop. Past the school bus, you can see some trailers. I’ts all used for storage

I took a lot of video. This is just a small sample so you can get the idea. My editing skills aren’t the greatest, and this is a free version of editing software, so, like I said earlier, you get what you pay for. The first part of the video is inside his workshop, the last part is inside one of this many containers. This one has hardware. He has others with antiques, light fixtures, electronics, books, lumber and probably just about anything else you can imagine. I mainly wanted to show you some of the things he has made. Oh, and Dad’s language can be a little coarse so, just be forewarned.

Yeah Dad is the extreme. If you think it’s overwhelming in the video, you should see it in person. I don’t know if you could hear the video all that well, especially in his workshop where the monster fan was running, but everything he showed us, he found either inside a building he was tearing down, in the trash by the side of the road, or someone gave it to him. He keeps it all. If the right buyer comes along, he sells it. If not, he just keeps it until he can make use of it. Oh, and every building on the place has it’s own hammer, screwdriver, pliers, etc., just in case he needs it.

For the rest of us, making do is really a mind set. You have to change how you think. Challenge yourself. How many ways can you make do? Let us know in the comments here, or on our Facebook page.

Connie

Other posts in the Endangered Skills series

Endangered Skill #1: Shoe Repair

Endangered Skill #2: Black Smith

Endangered Skill #3: Small Appliance Repair

Endangered Skill #4: Reading the Weather

Endangered Skills Number 5: Orienteering Part 1

Endangered Skills Number 5: Orienteering Part 2

Endangered Skill #6: Foraging

Endangered Skill 7: Making Your Own Entertainment, Part 1, Musical Instruments

Endangered Skill #7 Making Your Own Entertainment, part 2: Homemade Toys