Bee Keeping Journal – 2017 – Warm February Days

WEATHER

The warm weather has continued, with most days above 60 degrees and a few above 70. That is all about to change and go back to normal, which is close to freezing at night and mid-40s during the day.

Hive 201601H

The good news continues for this hive – for now! There is plenty of activity on the warm sunny days. In fact in the last week they are even bringing in pollen from somewhere, my guess is the maples. The news reported several trees, including the maples, with high pollen counts right now on the hay fever report. Good Times! My concern now is as the weather returns to “normal” that the bees may have already started the spring build up. I have decided that I will not being doing any in depth hive inspections in order to not chance rolling the queen or chilling any brood, so I cant be sure what is happening. Today is the last predicted extra warm day for the next 10 days so I popped the top and found about half the sugar bricks remaining. I dropped in a pollen patty and closed it back up. The weather was so nice they barely noticed I was there! Plenty of bees inside and out doing what bees do, so keeping my fingers crossed this hive makes it to “real” spring!

Configuration

This hive consist of two deep hive bodies, a spacer for feeding and a top entrance, and a quilt box currently full of wood shavings.

Maple Syrup Season 2017 Begins!

So it begins again! The temps are forcasted to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day for at least the next 7 to 10 days. So I started tapping trees today. I have added about 10 new trees to the rotation, going to give some of the trees we have tapped the last two years a little time off. No particular reason, just that I only have 24 taps, but there is a chance I wont make it another couple days without ordering some more. 🙂 Click right here if you want to know How to Make Maple Syrup

I usually just collect empty milk jugs starting in the fall to use as sap collectors. This year my son decided to bring home his empty juice containers. They are 1 gallon also and clear, which is a bonus. So we will see how that goes. If not, I have extra milk jugs waiting to be rushed into service.

The other change for this year is I am attempting to go back to only use wood fuel in the evaporation of the sap. Last year I used propane and while it made for a more consistent outcome, it was a little to expensive. The problem with wood is you have to keep up on filling the containers while it evaporates or else it will scorch the sides of the pan. Then you refill with more syrup that scorched sap causes the maple syrup to have a burnt taste. So I will be doing smaller batches (5-10 gallons at a time) so I can watch them more closely. You just get tired after 10 hours of filling sap and stoking a fire.

Here are a couple pictures from the start of the 2017 season:

Tapped Maple Tree

Maple Syrup Season 2017

Three tapped maple trees

Maple Syrup Season 2017 – three trees

Bee Keeping Journal – 2017 – still here!

In an attempt to begin actually keeping records regarding my bee keeping, I give you this first post of the year. Anytime I have observations about the bee hives and or work with the bees I am plan to document them on the blog under the title “Bee Keeping Journal”. Then I can look back year to year and see what has happened and anticipate problems or needs. I will try to group thoughts under headings specific to a given hive. So here goes!

WEATHER

It has been cold, below normal cold, the past couple of weeks. Getting as low as 1 degree on one given night. While I know others further north are laughing, I was fretting and worrying about my one remaining hive. I lost both hives last year, most likely due to mites, so I don’t consider myself a beekeeper until I have kept bees through the winter. Then yesterday and today in an odd, but normal for the midwest, we had a mid-winter heat wave. 65+ both days, so I ran up the hill to the remaining hive as fast as I could to see if we still had bees.

Hive 201601

This hive was started using a package of bees and two deep boxes of built comb and honey stores. I took both dead outs from 2015 and froze the frames in the deep freezer over the winter and was able to start this hive with an abundance of resources. I could be wrong about this, but it seemed to make the bees lazy or it could have been the late start of May 16th when the package arrived. They built up well in numbers, but never really built out additional comb. So mid summer I removed a frame from each box (9 frames in each 10 frame deep) to allow better air flow due to excessive bearding. Plus they weren’t using or building on the outer frames. This seemed to please them as they began working all 9 frames and reduced bearding. They got a full MAQS treatment at or around Sept 1st. After that I feed them several gallons of 1:1 syrup because they had very little in the way of winter stores. In November I added the quilt box. Mid-December there was brief warm up so I dropped in some chunks of Becky’s sugar bricks. Checked on them yesterday and saw plenty of activity, so opened them up and even though still had plenty of sugar I gave them the remaining pieces of brick from hive 201602. Today this is what I saw – happy bees, happy beekeeper!

January 2017 Bee Activity

January 2017 Bee Activity

Hive 201602

This hive was from a swarm captured the same week as the package arrived. In fact I thought it might have been from the package, check the details here Swarm Trap Success – sort of. It followed the same path as the package, two deeps of resources, lazy bees, MAQS, 1:1 syrup, and sugar bricks. But two weeks after the sugar bricks when the package hive had minimum activity due to a slight warm up, this hive had none. So I popped the lid to find a small dead cluster in the bottom box. Not sure exactly what happened, but seems like they got caught in bottom box and either starved or froze. This is only my second year so not good a reading a hive to determine the exact cause. I looked through the pile of bees and those that dropped out from the between the frames, but couldn’t find the queen. I tore the hive down and stashed the frames to be used again next year.

This is the life!

While this rural life can be great during spring and summer, I truely love fall and winter.  What a great day it was today!

The day started sitting in a frosty tree stand.  It is deer season here and with sunrise later and later I didn’t even have to get up early.  I always dreamed of this day when instead of getting up early and driving for more than an hour to hunt I could just get up and walk out back.  It now takes me longer to get dressed in several layers, than to get to my stand.  It was a balmy 25 degrees, but I loved every minute of it.  Plus since I am fortunate enough to work remotely,  I was able to sleep in, hunt for 2 hours an still get to work on time.

It was going to be the last relatively warm day for a while so I took the opportunity to feed the bees the sugar bricks I had made according to Laurie’s recipe.  I cut it down since I only have two hives and it turned out not too bad.  When I got to the hives it was about 2pm and 48 degrees.   There were a couple of bees out flying so I figured it was safe to open up the hive.  I was ecstatic too see clustered bees. A couple were none to happy I left the door open, overall things looked good.  I quickly placed half the sugar brick in each hive and closed them back up.   There is normally a warm spell in January, so will check on them again and see if the need more sugar.  Otherwise beekeeping is over for 2016.

After a normal work day, it was holiday date night.  Meaning we headed to town for dinner, shoppping, and a live nativity presentation.  The shopping included buying our live Christmas and black oil seeds to keep our winter feeders full.  The nativity presentation was a drive through setup of the life of Jesus.  I had to laugh a little since the specific nativity part consisted of two small goats.  I give an A for a good overall effort.

We spent Thanksgiving at Universal Studios Orlando with the family where it was 80 degrees both days, so we are planning to have a mini turkey dinner tomorrow with all the trimmings.  Personally I am only in it for the pumpkin pie!

Jump to the comments and share about your fall/winter activities.

Bee Keeping Journal – 2016 – Quilt box – Bee update

Winter Hive Setup 2016

Winter Hive Setup 2016


This time last year I was cleaning out the beehives.  We lost both hives from that first year.  My initial summation was they we overwhelmed by hive beetles due to a bad location.  While I still think the location was bad (too much shade and moisture) I have come to the conclusion the beetles probably took over after a mite investation damaged the hive beyond repair.  We didn’t check or treat for mites last year.

This year the first of September in a hasty rush we treated with MAQS.  Why hasty, well really I didn’t feel qualified to test and count mites and everything I ready online said “you have mites” even if you don’t think you do.  So before we ran out of warm days, we treated.  Feel free to flame me in the comments for not testing first or because you believe in being treatment free.  The treatment went well and in part due to the new location the beetle count was down, not great but much better than last year.

Both hives were low on stores, the fall flow seemed bad based on what little I know in my second year.  The 2:1 sugar syrup feeding begin and continued through October at which point both hives appeared to have two mostly full deeps and were active and still bringing in pollen from who knows where.  The feeder was removed and two more frames of empty comb were added in its place.

Last item before winter was to build and install a quilt box.  This became a priority as we are forcasted to have our first frost this next week.  The box was made from 1×4 and lined with metal screen.  It was filled half full of the same wood shavings we use for the chickens and placed on top above the shim.  The shim will allow us to add a sugar brick on each hive later in the season.  The shavings are supposed to wick moisture from the hive and allow it to evaporate out ventilation holes instead of dripping back into the hive and freezing the bees.

Winter HIve Quilt Box 2016

Winter HIve Quilt Box 2016


For now the bees are busy during the heat of the day and they are ready for winter as best we know how.

Review – Mother Earth News Fair – Topeka, KS Oct 22-23, 2016

So I convinced my lovely wife to join me this past weekend on a trip to beautiful and exotic Topeka, KS! We attended our first Mother Earth News Fair.

My first impression is I thought it would be bigger and outdoors. I understand some of the other locations may have been outdoors, but this one was inside the ExpoCenter. There were plenty of great vendors and multiple stages with presentations.

Regarding the presentations I have two observations: First the ones we attended were very basic level information on whatever the topic was being discussed. For example, we went to one about beehive inspections. The speaker asked how many people already had bees and I would guesstimate over 60% of the crowd raised their hands. Then he asked how many are thinking about getting bees and I would guesstimate about 10% of the crowd raised their hands. To me this meant it was a more advanced crowd and he should have quickly covered the basics for the 10% and spent most of his time on advanced topics. Instead it started with “this is a beehive” and “these are frames” and got slower from there. I will try to find a way to suggest to the fair organizers to mark the sessions with the level – beginner, intermediate, advanced so people know what to expect.

Second I was a little disappointed in the crowds. Confession time, I was fan boy-ing a little at some of the speakers. For example, Joel Salatin spoke Sunday morning at the main stage. I got my lovely wife up early to be there so we would be sure to get a seat. Turns out we could have slept in, the crowd never filled the area by more than about 70%. It could be the basic level of some topics and unless this was your first fair you may have already heard it. For example with Joel Salatin and Elliot Coleman it was the same discussion I have seen from them on the internet and probably the same speech they have been giving for years.

All that said I tried to take something new from each discussion and we only walked out of one to go to another. The speaker got preachy real fast and we got the feeling there wasn’t much instructional information coming, so we went and heard Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily talk about ducks! 🙂

My favorite session was one from Marjory Wildcraft of The Grow Network on “How to produce half your food in less than an hour per day in a backyard”. I mostly liked it because her system included chickens for eggs, garden for fruits and veggies, and rabbits for meat. Three things we already are doing!

Finally a couple of shout outs!
Food trucks – the food we got was delicious and the rest smelled heavenly! A good variety to choose from!
The guys at the Norwood Sawmills demonstration area who patiently answered all my sawmill related questions
Same for the gentleman at Premier 1 Supplies booth who patiently answered all my electric fencing related questions

I took several pictures of speakers, but from a distance with my cell phone they turned out terrible. So here is the one good one I took just before I got to the front of the line to ask Marjory Wildcraft a question:

Marjory Wildcraft

Marjory Wildcraft at Mother Earth News Fair Topeka, KS 2016

Maple Syrup Season in September!

OK, so it is not really maple syrup season but life is about rhythms and preparing. Maple syrup season is around the first part of February here in Missouri. In order to be ready when the weather warms during the day after freeing at night there is work to be done now! We are marking the trees with “danger tape” just before the leaves fall making them easier to identify and we are saving milk and juice containers to act as our sap jugs and order an extra set of Maple Spile Tap.

Danger Tape

Danger tape used to mark sugar maple trees.

Identifying Maple Trees
We moved to The Ridge on Halloween, so by the time we realized we had a healthy batch of maple trees to tap the leaves had already fallen. Identifying a maple tree (or any tree) in the winter months with no leave is definitely a step up skill, but not impossible. Most everyone knows what a maple leaf looks like, if not just search anything Canada and you will most likely see the image of the 5 pointed maple leaf. This time of year you can easily find the trees buy finding the leaves, either on the tree or on the ground around the tree.

Without the leaves on the tree you have two other things to look at, the bark and the upper level branches. On a maple tree (sugar maple specifically) the bark is grey to brown with deep ridges. Ours seem to have this thin layer of greenish grey moss that grows in the ridges making them stand out from other trees as you look through the woods.

Marked sugar maples

Sugar maple trees marked for easy identification during maple syrup season.


When looking up to the trees upper branches, a sugar maple will have the smaller branches growing directly opposite each other from a larger branch. This takes a little bit of time to learn to recognize looking up, but check out these details from the Cornell Sugar Maple Research and Extension Program

So get out there and find your trees while the leaves are still on and start saving or investing in equipment to collect and reduce the sap to syrup. See our bigger Maple Syrup How-to post for more details on making syrup.

In the meantime, comment below what projects you have going to prepare for the next season!

Chicks, man!

So the plan was to hatch a few chicks while we had the extra eggs and prepare to replace our layers next spring.  Hatching them now means they should start laying in very early spring.  We had a broody hen, but she stopped when I tried to move her from the top nest box to a more chick-friendly lower nest box.  So time to break out the incubator.

 We have a styrofoam hova-bator incubator.  It is a still air model.  Past hatches have been horrible (both chicken and quail eggs) at less than 50% and an average about 30% have lead me to make changes.  First we bought an egg turner since it appeared that opening and closing the incubator to turn eggs three times a day was causing great fluxuations in both temperature and humidity.  While it was less work, hatch rates remained dismal.  Next it seemed the incubators with a fan were preferred as it insured the heat and humidity were more evenly dispersed.  Since our model didn’t have a fan, we could have bought a fan kit.  Since I am a computer geek, the many computer case fans I had laying around looked exactly like the ones in the kit.  I rigged one up and presto circulated air incubator, but again no real change in hatches.  

This time I did yet another internet search for ways to improve hatch rates with piss-poor incubators.  This is when I found a forum post about the “dry incubation method“.  It was worth a try since fully formed I hatched chicks described our problem.  Hoping for at least 10-15 chicks (allows for 50/50 pullets to cockerels) we collected 36 eggs over the course of seven days.  One other thing we learned was that the eggs need to be turned during this time of waiting to set in the incubator.

We removed the two red plugs per the article and used a room humidifier from when the kids were young which kept the humidity inside the incubator around 35% without adding any water inside.   In the past with water inside it stayed above  60%.  Fast forward 18 days, the turner was removed and a small amount of water added to boost humidity to around 70%.  The next day I heard chirping and saw a little egg movement.  Day 20 we added back one of the red plugs and waited.  By the end of the day at least two had hatched.  Then on the morning of the 21st day. The windows were fogged over, the humidity was at 90% and there were definitely more than two chicks.  The article said DONT open the incubator, okay we couldn’t take it any more.  30 out of 36 hatched right on schedule!!!!  What are we gonna do with 30 chickens???  

That is our best hatch ever!  Could be luck, could be the dry hatch method.  If the Beautiful Wife ever allows me to hatch chicks again, we will see if the method made the difference.

What are your hatch rates?  What things have you found help increase hatch rates?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

Happening on the Ridge – August 2016

Summer is coming to a close, but things on the Ridge go on.

The garden finally got a break from intense dry heat to constant rain.  The tomatoes  made the best come back.


That was until these guys showed up


Yup tomato hornworms.  Now the top of all my tomatoes look like this


Nothing really to do except go out each morning and pick them manually and stomp the juicy little suckers!

Lily pads in the gold fish pond are blooming


Then there are the bees


This one hive beards ever evening regardless of the weather, have all summer.

So as the days grow shorter, there is still plenty to do.  Hunting season quickly approaches so we have a tree stand to build. Fall crops of lettuce, carrots, and cucumbers have been planted.   There are chicken eggs in the incubator to raise our layers for next season.

I will leave you with this picture of the trail to the river bottom.

Garden Hack Summit Weekend Replay – Review

Last week I viewed the Garden Hack Summit. Stacey Murphy put together a great list of speakers and garden topics. There were great videos on building soil (by Greg Peterson of urbanfarm.org), hugelkultur (by Paul Wheaton of permies.com), closed loop aquaponics (by Yemi Amu of okofarms.com), electric poultry netting (by Justin Rhodes of http://abundantpermaculture.com/), and others.

This weekend (8/5-8/7) they are running a free replay – so head on over and check out this great information at this link “Garden Hack Summit 2016” This is not an affiliate link and I get nothing for this recommendation, just good information I wanted to share.

I particularly enjoyed the talk on aqauponics by Yemi Amu. My plan it to implement the same system on a much smaller scale in my 10X12 greenhouse as soon as we get it installed this fall.