Bye Bye Bees

So where have I been? Frustrated, angry at myself, and feeling like a rank failure. Oh, did I mention feeling sorry for myself? Yeah. There is that. The last I spoke to you folks about my bees, I had three healthy hives that were going like gangbusters. I had harvested enough honey to pay for the purchase of one nuc I made last year, and everything was going well.

About ten days passed as I did other things, and then I revisited the hives. Two were just gone. I mean empty. I opened the hives and found signs of wax moths, and I thought that was the problem. However, I am wondering about that now and I will speak about it later.

First, I checked the third hive, which was a good three to four hundred meters from those two. It appeared to be fine, showing no signs of problems at that point. I even pulled the lid while not wearing my bee gear to look. They seemed happy and healthy. more about that later.

When I opened the two empty hives I had my second surprise. There were not very many dead bees on the bottom board. No more than a dozen which is about what I might find if I had disassembled a healthy hive. So where did they go? I think “go” might be the operative word here. These bees were not killed; they seem to have just left.

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Why I think they just left. Ten days ago at most these were FULL of honey.

This was in late September. I kept a close eye on my final hive, and changed the top board for winter. Then the worst winter I have seen since we moved to Braymer hit us. Early in October we had a freeze that set down on us for over a week. When I checked on the final hive, the bees were dead. Not gone like the first two: dead. There was good honey and no real sign of hive beetles or wax moths. Just dead.

It was the freeze, I was not the only bee keeper in the area to lose hives to this freeze. It just happened it was my last hive. And, for me at that time, the last straw. I was heart sick, guilty, angry at myself, nature in general and, yes to some extent, God. Aside here; it is OK to get angry at God. If you read th psalms David was angry at God more than once. Just as long as you do as David did and try to end your rant with “Thy Will Be Done”. Even if you have to say it through clinched teeth. Oh, did I mention feeling sorry for myself? Yeah, that too.

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The other hive with Wax Moths I immediately disassembled and put all the parts in a freezer for over a week. This one was waiting for freezer space and I made certain nothing was getting out until I took care of it.

Things I said to my loving wife, Connie, at the time included but were not limited to, “I liked living with a farmer but never particularly liked farming.” “There is a difference between wanting to raise bees and being able to.” Cut off about five yards of that kind of material and you got the idea. Frankly, somebody probably should have given me some fruit and cheese to go with that whine.

So that is where I entered the winter. I froze all my equipment for a week, some with nature’s help. Then I went inside and tried to figure out what I was going to do about the bees. I cannot afford to buy more bees at this time. That is still where I am at today. Am I going to try to get back in the bee keeping business? If so how? I have a lead on the possibility of some wild bees and there appears to be two hives who absconded right here on the place I might could trap.

So what is God trying to tell me about the bees? Is the message, “Ed, bee keeping is not your thing.” Or is it, “Suck it up buttercup and drive on because you have not failed until you quit.”

Seriously, right now I still do not know the answer, but spring is finally beginning to break. There will be another day unless all the snowfall and the present rain doesn’t drown us all.

So I will go outside, clean up some equipment, save what I can and decide. Do I sell it, or try again? We will talk in a week or so.

 

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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

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

 

While We’re Waiting

While we’re waiting for Ed to figure out that washtub bass, I thought I would fill you in on our last year, and share some plans for upcoming posts.

Last August, we took our first ever family vacation. We went to Georgia to visit my dad, then to Charleston SC so Chicken Girl could see the ocean. From there we went to Greenville SC to visit Ed’s daughter, and on to North Carolina to visit Cherokee and see where Ed’s grandparents lived when he was a boy.  We put 2600 miles on my car and made some great memories. There will be more about that in later posts.

While we were gone, James was supposed to stay here and take care of the critters.  Well, that didn’t go quite as well as we had hoped.  To make a long, sad, story short, James was not able to fight his Meth addiction and surrendered his probation. The judge gave him nine years.  The blessing in that is that he is clean and sober.  We pray that this time he gets the tools (and the desire) he needs to stay that way.

In the meanwhile, Bam Bam’s life kind of fell apart too, and he is staying with us again, along with his two small dogs, Rex and Gracie. They have been with us since December. It’s been nice to have him home again, and he is a big help. The little dogs provide a lot of “entertainment” although the cats are less than impressed.

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Bam Bam with Rex (black) and Gracie (white)

The big dogs are doing ok. Some days, Libby really shows her age, but I think we’ve stopped her digging out. Meeko still climbs out, on occasion, comes to the back door and barks! I think he wants to play with the little dogs, who aren’t terribly sure that’s a good idea.

On a positive note, we have finished homeschooling and Chicken Girl graduated on June 3rd. She is now taking an online Voice Over class, since she wants to be a voice over artist.

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Chicken Girl at her graduation party

As for the chickens, with the exception of one hen we lost to illness (we’re not sure what), they are all doing fine. We get between one and two dozen eggs a week, which is more than enough for us.  We are working on rebuilding the coop (again), as well as some new chicken tractors.

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Sunny about ready to fly the coop!

This spring has been an exciting time with the bees. Currently we have four hives. One we bought as a nuc, two from a hive we split, and one we took from an old house. I know that Ed will want to tell you all about that, but I will say I have finally put on the bee suit and started helping him. Capturing that wild hive was amazing!

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The wild hive was behind this wall!

Weather wise, things have just been strange.  With the exception of about a week of frigid sub zero temperatures, last winter was mild and dry. We didn’t get much spring. It just went from cold to hot, and still very dry.  We finally got some rain yesterday, but we need more.  The grass is dry and crunchy, but the plantain is doing beautifully!

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All the green is plantain. The brown is grass

We bought some fruit trees as well as some elderberry bushes planning to create fruit tree guilds. Well, we didn’t get as far into that as we would have liked, but we did get all the trees in the ground and they are hanging on.

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An apricot tree with mulch inside the drip line. We plan to plant understory plants here later.

Ed and Bam Bam built me a basement greenhouse, so I was able to get some seeds started. The only problem was that when they were ready to go outside, the weather was still too cool, and then the tiller broke down and Ed wasn’t able to get everything tilled.   We improvised and got everything I started planted. Some things didn’t make it, but most are, like the trees, hanging on.

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The greenhouse

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Tomato plants in the garden

After three years,  the blackberries are producing! Then a few days ago, I discovered wild raspberries growing behind the barn. This must just be a good year for berries. The mulberry trees in the fence rows are full of fruit in varying degrees of ripeness. The wild grapes have taken off too.

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Blackberries!

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Wild raspberries behind the barn

Well, I think that is pretty much everything. Hopefully, Ed will have that bass built next week, and he’ll post about that and all the other ways you can make your own musical instruments.

Connie

 

 

 

BEEginning Again

Those who follow my writing know that I started an experiment with bees last year. I invested in two nuclei (nucs), or two mini-hives with a queen, the bees, some honey and some brood (eggs for worker bees). Along with that I bought all the necessary bee keeping equipment.

I considered success getting through the first winter with one active hive. I did not do that. Luckily for this project, I consider failure quitting. I have not quit. With what honey I sold already, I can cover a lot of the cost of replacing the bees, so this was not quite the failure it could have been and I still have a few quarts of honey left.

So let’s redefine success. I have all the equipment I need and I have considerable more knowledge of bee keeping. I have two packages of bees on order, and I have my copy of First Lessons in Beekeeping. Along with that, I have made contact with other local bee keepers. I am well ahead of where I was last year.

  1. A hive beetle.
  2. A healthy hive.
  3. After a hive beetle attack
  4. Dead bees on bottom board.

So what do I have to do now? First, I need to clean up all my equipment. I would have had to do that anyway. Then I need to look at my set up. The table I had my hives on is too high. This year I will buy some concrete blocks and set the hives up on them.

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When you realize that I am going to have to put at least one more Super on this set up then you can see that it is too high to begin with.

The hives were on a table which sat on a concrete slab that once was the floor of a kennel I tore out. I need to clean that off and perhaps patch it a bit. I need to buy a couple more things like some more beetle traps, a queen excluder, a bee suit for my wife and/or visitors, a couple more deep supers and a couple of shallow supers.

Yeah, I know. Its like a whole new language isn’t it? When I first started attending beekeeping meetings, reading books, and watching videos, jargon that I did not understand kept washing over me, leaving me as confused as a dog at a whistling contest. If you are interested, you will read books, check web sites and just stop people who are talking about supers and bottom boards and what all, and ask them, “What does that mean?” Most will answer willingly.

As I continue with each post, I will publish a list of bee related terms and what they mean. You are welcome to steal it. I probably did.

Ed

Apiary: A site of one or more managed bee hives.

Bee Brush: A soft brush used for swiping bees off a surface.

Bottom Board: Floor of a bee hive

Brood: Describes all immature phases of the bee: egg, larvae, prepupae, or pupae

Super: General term for boxes (9-1/2-, 6-5/8- or 5-3/8- inches tall) comprising a beehive. Term is more appropriately reserved for honey production boxes placed above the brood nest.

How Not To’s

When Connie suggested this blog to me, and we talked about a theme and such, I pictured a series of articles about how to do the wonderful things we were going to do on our homestead. There has been some of that, I admit. I have written a handful of articles on how to do this or that and sometimes, the other.

But it seems to me, that a larger number of my contributions have been “How Not To’s”, not how to’s. Why? To be honest, this is my first attempt at homesteading. My time as the live-in grandson of a farmer ended early, and there was little, if any, input from the grown men in my life about how to build and make things.

I told a local friend last week, that I envied people raised here because they took for granted things I had never been allowed to learn. I told him, “My basic skill sets are writing, cooking and thanks to the U. S. Army, breaking things and hurting people.” I have spent the last almost two decades trying to unlearn that last one.

Today’s entry will not be any different. The basic thrust is going to be: This is what I did wrong. Don’t do that.

Anyone who follows our blog knows that early last spring, I set up two bee hives and started keeping bees. Things went well, perhaps too well at first. We harvested honey from June until August, and sold more than I ever hoped to the first year, while keeping more than enough for our uses. Honey will keep indefinitely, as long as it is harvested from capped combs, so keeping extra is not a problem.

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This is a picture of me opening the nucs last spring to put the bees in their new homes.

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Same bees, a month later. Like I said, they just took off.

Late in August I began to notice my bees acting strangely. One hive was robbing the other. I knew from study, that his meant the hive being robbed was weakening. I blocked most of the entrance to that hive, to reduce the open space the weak hive had to defend, to try to save it, but the hive was too far gone.

What I did not know until too late, was that this hive was infested with small hive beetles, and the second hive was well on its way to being killed too. At that point, I bought Beetle Traps, but that was closing the barn door after the horse has got out. Both hives were lost that quickly.

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This is a small hive beetle.

I should have had beetle traps in place from the beginning. I should have taken more care to look in the bottoms and the upper corners of the hives for beetles. I should have been more aggressive in making certain the beetles did not get a foot hold in the first place.

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This is a beetle trap with not nearly enough beetles in it. Too little way too late.

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This is a ghost town, but it won’t be around May, Lord willing.

The bad news is, this course in practical bee keeping cost me about three hundred bucks in bees. The good news, finding the positives in the negatives, is that I sold enough honey to defray most of that cost. I have beetle traps for both hives and I will know better next time.

I tell young people I mentor and train the following: “Experience simply means any mistake you are going to make, I have already made, and learned how to overcome.”

So the beetles got me this time, but I will be ready next time. I have already frozen the hives to make certain I kill all the larva. So before spring I must:

1. Scrape the hives, clean them and prepare them for the new bees. This time I bought packages. Packages consist of a queen and her bees. They take a little longer to become established, but I already have everything else I need, so I want to start that way.

2. Set up bee traps in and around our property. I will use the boxes I have left from last year’s nucs for traps, and use lemon grass oil and bee’s wax for bait. Hopefully, if we have some swarming in the area, I can pick up some more bees.

3. Buy a couple more deep and a couple more medium hive boxes. One of my problems last year was that I was not prepared for the population explosion of bees I experienced.

Except for the traps, all must be completed and ready to go, along with cleaning out the bee yard and preparing it to receive the hives, by late March. The traps can wait another month, maybe six weeks because they depend on bees seeking new homes. That should be plenty of time, if the dogs stay home and the Creek don’t rise. This year, because we upgraded our blog, I can post you some videos of our progress. Maybe that will help you, and maybe you can help me by giving me some advice based on what you see me doing.

I said earlier, the Army only taught me how to break things and hurt people. That is simplistic. The Army taught me a lot more than that, and a lot of it has to do with dealing with set backs and failings. The best one is simply this, “The winner is the one who gets up one more time than his opponent.”

It’s gonna take a lot more than some beetles to beat Connie and I.

Ed

A Cranberry Merchant

Reading over Ed’s post from last week, I decided I wanted to add my own two cents to what he said, as well as catching you up for this week.

Yes, we have been crazy busy. When he started saying all the things we were busier than, I could just hear grandma say, “Busier than a cranberry merchant”.  After Ed’s post last week, I decided to try and find the source of that saying.  Google gave me the answer in the first result. Subsequent results said the same thing. When you add the words “in November”, the phrase makes perfect sense. November is the time of Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is the time for cranberry sauce. As a matter of fact, you might be hard pressed to find cranberries at other times of the year. So, yes, a cranberry merchant might be very busy in November.

Ed truly loves the bees. It’s fun for me to watch him watching them. I am, however, looking forward to getting my own bee suit, so I can get a good look myself. As it is now, I can get about ten to fifteen feet away, and watch, without drawing the attention of the irritated bees.

I don’t think Ed mentioned it, but Kat has named the hives Sparta and Athens. Sparta was named first, when I pointed out to her that the bees would cast out those members who weren’t able to pull their own weight…kind of like the ancient Spartans that we were covering in school. Of course, the other hive had to be Athens. Interestingly, the hives’ behavior seems to mirror their respective namesakes. Athens is definitely more laid back than Sparta.

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Athens on the left and Sparta on the right.

Jim’s death took us all by surprise. I couldn’t have been more proud of how Ed stepped up to help, not only for my children and I, but for Jim’s family as well. Jim’s brother went so far as to tell Ed that he is “family now”. Katherine was definitely daddy’s girl (the only girl in a total of six children, and the baby), and she had him wrapped around her little finger. She was actually concerned that she wasn’t crying like Bam Bam, and I reassured her that everyone grieves differently and it was ok. She’s brought him up a time or two since then, but that was it. I was kind of waiting for something to break, but wasn’t sure if it would.

Then the dogs killed those two chickens. She fell to the ground and just screamed. I told Jim’s sister later that I thought some of that might have been for her dad too. In any case, it was hard to watch. My heart just broke for her. Then a few days ago, Moony came up missing. After looking and calling for a couple hours without locating the runaway rooster, Katherine just sat and cried. She told me she was a terrible chicken keeper. I told her it was not her fault, and we just had to pray that he was alright. The next morning, Ed and I had both gone out to the coop at different times hoping he had come back, but he hadn’t. At least, not where we expected him.

Ed was out near the other pen, also known as Sunny’s bachelor pad, when he heard a rooster crow nearby. He was looking right at Sunny and it wasn’t him. He heard it again, and it was coming from inside the garage. He came to get me and we both went back to try and find the source. Ed was checking the rafters and I was checking the corners. There was Moony, sticking his head out of a bunch of boxes in the back corner! He may have been there the whole time.

That very day, Ed and Kat worked together to cover the top of the chicken pen, so no one can fly out again.
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Hanging out after the work was done.

The rain finally stopped, and the sun came out with a vengeance. For about two or three weeks, we had 90 and hundred degree days. That is not June weather for Missouri; July or August maybe, but not June. Now, the weather people are saying we need to be prepared for the possibility of 4-6 inches of rain this weekend. I guess we’ll see. We had a little shower this evening. The clouds looked ominous, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. It rained for about ten minutes and the sun came back out.

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Those clouds were rolling!

Like Ed said, we’ve both been dealing with health issues. That’s part of that whole “Old Folks” thing. I had an endoscopy yesterday. I do have some issues, but the doctor wasn’t overly concerned. I just need to watch what, how, and when I eat. He didn’t say so, but I know that losing some weight would solve a lot of the problem.

The foot surgery is another matter entirely. I have a bone spur, along with a “diseased” Achilles’ tendon. They are going saw off the bone spur and remove the diseased portion of the tendon. After the surgery, its “no weight bearing for three months”. The doctor told me it would be either a wheel chair or a knee scooter. I chose the knee scooter. I’ve been told twice now to get it early and practice. Yes, I have already apologized to Ed in advance, because I know it’s going to drive me crazy.

I started a bunch of tomato seeds back in April and just now got all of them in the ground. I think there are about 30 plants in all. I noticed blooms on a few plants today. I also planted sunflowers, okra, and a few other plants here and there. After I knew I was going to be out of commission for at least three months, I decided not to try and plant anything else this year.

We did get some nice lettuce in the cold frame, but the spinach never came up. The onions we planted last fall came up though, and we still have a couple in the ground.

In addition to the trees we planted in the back field, we also planted ten blackberry bushes. I think we have about eight left. A few of them are really coming along.

Ed went to his first regular shift at his new job tonight. He always did like working thirds. Kat is now calling him a bat, because he’s working nights.

Well that’s about it for now.

Connie

To Bee or Not To Bee

Apiculture: Raising bees for the purpose of gathering honey and/or pollinating plants; put simply: beekeeping. I did not know what the big fancy five buck word for beekeeping was until I started to write this, but I knew that such a word would exist. It is the way we are. We need a big word, preferably in a dead language, before we feel like something we are doing is important.

Two weeks ago, we went over south of Chillicothe, Missouri, to Crooked Hill Beekeeping to talk to Bill about starting our bees in mid April to early May. I know that is two months away and yes, I already feel rushed.

First, what I actually know about beekeeping could be written on the back of a match book, with a dull carpenter’s pencil. I know essentially three things, none of which are very helpful at this time.

1. Grandpa raised bees in his apple trees. The honey was marvelous and the man, well if he raised bees the whole world should.
2. As a boy I was entranced and amazed by the bees, their rituals, patterns and practices, as well as the art of caring for them and harvesting honey. I recall spending time behind the bee hives, quietly, with my ear up against the back of the hives, listening to the constant hum as the bees worked and kept the hive cool.
3. Bees are not a luxury in our environment; they are a necessity. Probably much more of a necessity than you and I.

Let’s get down to some of the practical parts of what Connie and I have done in order to become bee-keepers. The first and best thing we did was make connections. We found out, quite by accident, that a new Beekeeping Club was forming in Braymer and we have attended two meetings so far.

It is an eclectic group, consisting of everything from professionals through homesteaders to Mennonites. By the way, those guys have the coolest hats. The first meeting we attended was in October, and was largely organizational. Because of the holidays, we did not do another meeting until the end of January, where we got a presentation on preparing the hives for spring.

The information is important of course, but the connections with other people who are doing what we propose to do, is equally important. Both give you a chance to pick people’s brains, learn what worked for them and what didn’t, and to hear the jargon of beekeeping.

The difference between a Super and a Deep are simple things, but are the beginning of a confusion that just grows as words with which you are perfectly familiar, come out of people’s mouths in orders and contexts that make absolutely no sense. The February presentation of our yet un-named beekeeping club is going to be about the jargon of beekeeping. I am looking forward it with great interest.

The next part, in my opinion, would be the same whether your interest is beekeeping or Alligator wrestling. If you are going to learn from somebody, learn from somebody who really knows; and if you are going to do business with somebody, do business with somebody you can trust.

The Good Lord, being certain I need all the help I can get, led me to Bill and his wife Tammy at Crooked Hill Beekeeping. Here, I will admit a bias. Both Bill and I are retired military, and Bill is also a Law Enforcement Officer, which I was for a number of years. So we start out with a lot of shared interest and attitudes. As we have mentioned, Connie is also a military veteran so, again, that established a level of trust going in. Also both Bill and his wife are sensitive to the fact we are starting a little downhill from the bottom so, while we are not idiots, it is best not to take any chances.

After talking to Bill for a couple hours, one hour on bees and one hour of old soldier war stories, Connie and I made arrangements to buy two hives of bees complete. This included:

Two Nucs of Russian Bees. You can buy bees in packages, which are just the bees, or Nucs which are an already established hive with five frames (what the bees make honey and put their eggs in). We decided to go with the Nucs to start with, so that we have a greater chance of an initial success.

Two full hives unassembled. I bought them unassembled not just because they were a tad cheaper, though they were. I bought them that way so I can see how they go together so that in the future I can possibly build my own if that seems more economical. A full hive consists of:

1. A bottom board with a reducer
2. Two deeps (the place where the bees live, breed and make their honey to be stored for winter)
3. 20 Deep frames and foundation (What the bees make comb and brood on)
4. A super (the smaller box you put on top where, hopefully, the bees will make your honey)
5. 10 Medium frames and foundation (For your supers where you will someday find your honey if all goes well).
6. An inner cover, which controls air flow
7. An outer telescoping cover, which is the top of your hive.

If you are like me you need a picture:

langstrothHiveIllus

A diagram of a bee hive found in the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Beyond all this we bought some other items necessary to assemble these products into bee hives and a copy of a book (books are good, I like them in paper with pages, I can write on and bend over) called First Lessons in Beekeeping by Keith S. Delaplane. I picked the book up in his shop and Bill told me that this was the book he started with. That was a good enough endorsement for me.

After I have assembled my two hives and before the Nucs arrive, I will make another visit to buy a bee suit, smoker and other equipment along those lines. I am waiting, so I will be sure of what I need.

Now I have to assemble, paint, and set up two hives, before I have two already established bee colonies arriving for me to tend to. The cats have a hard enough time with dogs in the house; I doubt that they or Connie are going to be pleased if I try to raise bees in my den. No pressure.

As I do the work in my own bumbling way, I will get Connie to make pictures and we will post them for your edification and amusement.

God Bless,

Ed