Come in, look around. Let me know what you think! Comments are always welcome and encouraged.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vanilla Honey Body Scrub

This is my first recipe post, Its Organic Vanilla Honey Body Scrub. It is super easy once you gather the ingredients, smells AMAZING,  and makes your skin super soft. The ingredients I used were 100% organic and chemical free-in fact, you can eat it. But you don't have to go that route if you don't want the trouble of looking for organic ingredients. All of them can be found reasonably priced at various places on the internet.

1/4 cup + 1 tbs  vanilla infused sweet almond oil*
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbs local honey (I used honey from my own hives, yea!)
1/2 vanilla bean
ingredients ready to go

mixing the yummy ingredients

* The vanilla infused Almond oil was made several months in advance. You don't have to do this but it makes the vanilla scent quite a bit stronger. I cut up two organic vanilla beans and placed it in a mason jar with 1 cup of organic sweet almond oil and let it sit and "steep" in a sunny window for almost three months. The vanilla infused oil alone makes a great moisturizer that I use all the time. Its well worth the trouble in my opinion. You could also substitute the sweet almond oil with another light carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba.
Mix everything together in a bowl except the  1/2 vanilla bean. slice the vanilla bean length wise and scrape out the tiny pods in the center of the bean with a knife-that's the part of the bean you want to use. Put the pods in the bowl with the other ingredients and discard the vanilla bean itself. Pour in pretty container. Done!
got the jar at hobby lobby for a buck

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lesson #12: 10 lbs of Honey Sounds Like a Lot, But Doesn't Look Like a Lot

First, I am a horrible blogger. I have plenty to talk about but never can seem to make myself sit down and talk about it. I haven't updated in quite a while. There was plenty going on but I just didn't force myself to write. Sorry guys.

We harvested our honey about two weeks ago. The spring was so wet and the summer was so dry that we decided the only honey the bees could spare was about ten pounds. Oh, it seems like a lot but trust me, after over a grand spent and countless hours of toiling and monitoring, ten pounds of honey is hardly any honey at all. I expected 100 pounds. Greg expected none. I guess I should be happy with ten. The Beekeeper down the road from my parents got a whopping one thousand pounds (yes I said one thousand) from 10 hives. So does that mean that next year our two well established hives will make us 200 pounds of honey. I really freaking hope so.

Last weekend I went to a workshop called Women in the Outdoors. I managed to sneak in on the tail end of a beekeeping 101 session and talked to the teacher. He said ten pounds is something a first-year beekeeper should be proud of and that as long as the bees stored enough honey for themselves we did "damn good". Hearing him say that made me fell SO much better. I asked him how a newbee could spot the queen bee among thousands of workers. He had a observation frame in plexiglass with about 300 bees in it including the queen. "Well" he said "You look for the painted dot on her back" "Well" I said "What if you didn't get a marked Queen?" He laughed and said in a round about way that it was impossible. He also demonstrated how to mark your queen bee when you get her. I tried to listen to him but all I could think of was how proud I was of our "damn good" beekeeping efforts this year.

So as far as the honey harvest goes, we made it pretty simple for ourselves. We chose not to buy a 300 dollar honey extractor which spins the honey out of the combs and frames. We decided to just scrape the comb, honey and all right into a bucket and strain it out later using stainers made specifically for honey.

After it strained we jarred it. As you can see above, 10 lbs seems like a lot but really its not. We filled 8.5 jelly jars. One jar went to my parents as a thank you for putting up with thousands of buzzing, stinging bees living on their property. One jar of honey and comb went to my grandpa. He loves comb honey. I have one jar that is down to half already in my cupboard and greg has the the moment. I think it will be difficult to ration it out all winter long. Its good stuff and hard not to eat by the spoonful right out of the jar. As you can see in the picture above, Greg did not allow any to go to waste!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lesson #11: Honey From Your Own Beehive Is the Best Honey in the World

Last week we took a sample of honey from a frame. We opened the hive and scraped a 4 or 5 inch chunk of capped honey from the honey super in hive #1-aka the good hive. As you can see from the pictures its a very pale yellow. Not the typical gold color of honey you get at the grocery store. Greg and I shared the sample with my parents and the consensus was that it was delicious honey. It was sweet, a little flowery-just like honey is supposed to taste. My dad (shown in the pic) really liked it. He took one bite and immediately took off in the house saying he needed to make some toast to go with it. Even though we all together agreed that it was damn good honey, I secretly believe it might be the best honey I've ever tasted. Most likely my pride is influencing my taste buds but Wikipedia says that the paler yellow honey is considered "supreme" quality-yea!

So now that I know that our bees are expert honey makers, my expectations keep getting higher and higher. I bought a special honey straining bucket( its on its way via ups) so that we can strain all the honey from the comb we scrape off the frames. I also keep wanting to buy cases of jars to fill with our buckets and buckets of honey we collect later this summer. I have recycled lib balm tubes and organic sweet almond oil also on the way so that I can make my own lip balm from the wax. I might be getting a little ahead of myself but its fun. We really don't know how much honey we will end up with. Its still the first year and we still have to leave a good chunk of honey in the hive for the bees to eat over winter. Its really their honey after all and they don't intentionally make extra for people to steal. We will have to be conservative as far as how much we harvest this year. Better safe than sorry. I don't think there will be enough to sell but plenty to give as gifts to family members and friends.

As of right now the hives are in pretty good shape. Hive #1 (the good hive) is slowly but surely filling up the honey super we put on a month or so ago. I would love to have to put another one on before the end of the season. Last week Greg put the first honey super on #2 (the bad hive) which has now moved to good hive status. The bees are still angrier, louder, and still more agressive but there are a lot more bees and they are finally starting to store surplus honey. It still amazes me that both hives are Italian bees, they are 50 feet apart from each other, yet their personalities are so different. Maybe the second hive has been crossed with africanized bees. The first hive always seems so calm and quiet when we open the hive. The second always gets pissed and bunches of them end up flying around our heads looking to sting us in the eyeballs I'm sure. We are 3 months in, both hives are doing what they are supposed to be doing, no infestations of mites, mothes or beetles, no chemical treatments, no storm damage, no more rogue queens. We're finally getting the hang of it and really the work left to do is harves honey later this summer or early fall.

I am already planning on adding hives next year. Maybe two or three. I want to put one at my Grandparents. My Grandfather is in his late 80s and still has a massive garden every year. He had a few beehives in the olden days and although he wouldn't be able to manage a hive himself at his age, he said he'd like to have one to help pollenate the garden. I think he would enjoy just going out and watching them every now and then. And he LOVES honey. I took him some of the sample honey to try. I figured as much he loves the stuff, he would be the one to tell me if it tasted off. Like most old people, he is not afraid to be honest either. I gave him a jelly jar about half full with a few chunks of comb. See the big jar in the picture. I assumed he would take a spoonfull and let me know. He had the jar cleaned out, comb and all, in less than five minutes.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lesson #10: Bee Patient

Well its been several weeks since my last post. I've been super busy with work (traveling for the last two weeks) and have had various other things going on, including not being able to manage my time well. Its summer. There are so many things that have sounded better than sitting in front of my crappy, virus ridden computer indoors. Hive #1 is doing very well. We have a honey super on it and the frames are getting filled nicely. This weekend we may even take a little honey out to see how it tastes. Hive #2 is catching up. In a week or two we may add a honey super to the hive. Right now they are storing a lot of honey in the hive body (boxes for making baby bees) and they will need some more wiggle room.

Overall we really haven't spent a lot of time doing bee related activities. For the most part, we've left them alone for the month of June (except a little more robbing of one hive to give to the other). Hopefully the weather will be better in July and we will see a lot of honey. You know, the hardest thing about this whole beekeeping endeavor is playing the waiting game. All you can really do most of the time is wait and watch. Giving a colony of bees a pep talk or a lecture on how to make honey faster doesn't really work. Believe me, I've tried. June has been really wet. We've had several, well many severe storms and are lucky not to have seen any damage to the hives. Places in our area have had to deal with lots of downed trees, power outages, roofs blown off etc. Perhaps July will be drier and um flowerier?

Going to order lib balm tubes this coming July. I am thinking with the sample of honey we take off in the next few weeks I can make a test batch of home made lip balm. Who wants to be my lab rat?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lesson #9: Bees Sting. It Hurts. Avoid If Possible.

A lot has been going on. You could say I've been a busy little bee. Work (I mean my real, not fun job) has been hectic and by the time I am done either beekeeping, running errands or trying to keep up with my life I've tried to cope with the chaos. So lately I've neglected to keep the blog up to date! Lots has happened. Mostly good and some (especially in the last week or so) not good. I will try to get you caught up.

The colony that had to be replaced (the mean colony) is slowly....slowly........progressing. That is to say they are still alive and the queen is still laying eggs. They've been in the hive for a little less than a month but aren't filling up the frames as quickly as we'd like. On two occasions we've "robbed" full frames of brood or baby bees from the healthy hive and put them in the mean hive to give them a boost. This isn't something I would have done if I was managing the hives on my own but since this is a joint venture I have to be a team player. We don't always have the same opinion on managing the hives and it can be frustrating when I don't feel like my ideas are being considered but I guess there has to be compromise, which is a fancy word meaning someone has to cave. It might as well be me.

Some believe that one reason for the mean hive to be progressing slowly is because we've had some rough weather the last several weeks. Storms and lots of rain which makes it impossible for the bees to get out and forage. If you want my opinion I think we have just a lazy, nasty little colony of bees to deal with. I mean, just because the weather is bad doesn't mean they can't get stuff done in the house you know? They should have been drawing out those frames with comb for the queen to lay her eggs in but they just haven't gotten to it.....It feels good getting that off my chest. Anyway hopefully with a very sunny and warm week ahead we will start to see some improvement. If not, I am giving up on them and leaving them to their own devices. Survival of the fittest. I am putting my foot down and will refuse to steal from a good hive to give to a bunch of ungrateful ill-tempered slacker bees. More on my personal beekeeping views later...unless I forget.

A major event that occurred was Greg's first bee sting. Yep it happened. Last Tuesday we made the dumb decision to replace a pollen patty (extra bee food) inside the mean hive. The weather was crappy-mistake #1 and we were in a hurry-#2 so we decided not to suit up-#3 or smoke the hive-#4. We thought we'd be in and out before they knew it. Wrong. It was Greg's job to open the cover and my job to put the patty on the frames. There were a lot of bees hanging out on top (big surprise) and I didn't want to put it on top of them so I hesitated-#5. That is when one of those evil little monster bees went straight for him and stung him on the top of his hand. I am sure it's my fault. I shouldn't have taken so long. Poor Greg. His hand swelled up and was sore for days. I bet I will get it any day now. They have it out for me. I know it.

The healthy hive has been doing fantastic! So well that we just added a honey super to the hive yesterday. A honey super is a box of frames only for honey storage. Yea! We put a plastic screen down between the brood boxes and they honey super so that the queen can't go laying eggs in our- I mean the- honey. She is too big to fit through the screen but the workers can still get through to store nectar which will eventually turn into honey. The wild raspberries on my parents property are in full bloom so this has been keeping them busy for another week or so until the clover and flowers start blooming.Putting the honey super on also means that the healthy hive has graduated from needing to use the syrup feeders. Now there will be less sugar syrup to make thus less syrup to spill on my clothes and car.

Unfortunately Greg had another mishap yesterday. This time with the smoker. The sides of the bee smoker get really hot. I mean REALLY hot, and he burned the tip of his finger pretty badly when he grabbed it. Poor guy. Yesterday was the first time I've ever seen him dance....he also dropped the f-bomb right in front of my mother. I think she took it pretty well.

Besides tending to the bees we've been busy planting trees, wild flowers and clover in the bee yard...aka my parents' prairie. The deer have been busy eating them down to stubs. I am hoping to get pictures of the hives, flowers and trees up soon...unless I forget.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lesson #8:Everybody Poops. Even Bees.

Checked in on the new hive today. I've decided this hive is full of meanies. Since the day we put them in, they've are more aggressive, louder and well, just kinda rude. I've read that bees' temperaments vary from hive to hive. I guess this is true because #1 has a lot more bees but they are nicer, calmer. They don't fly up out of the hive when you open it. They don't go looking for the tiny little open crack in your bee suit and they don't buzz around your face as if they are cursing you out like hive #2 does. Or maybe #2  has just been mimicking Greg's foul mood these last few days....

While doing a rutine inspection of new hive #2 I started feeling a tickle on my leg...inside my suit. Whatever crawly thing that had gotten inside was big but I did my best to stay calm. Bees can smell fear too ya know. I told Greg I had a hunch that a bee was about to go in for the kill and I waited for the fiery burning sting at any moment. But it didn't happen. Greg just laughed at me and told me not to worry- that there wasn't a bee in my suit-how silly. So we carried on with our work. I walked stiff legged from one hive to the other, afraid to pinch the little bee at my knee. Good thing my bee suit is so huge its hard to see what I'm doing under there. I tried to keep my composure while we were finishing up but I was FREAKING OUT on the inside.

We checked the new hive for a good pattern of eggs and there was. If you find more than one egg in a comb cell you know you are in trouble. Its a sign that worker bees are laying eggs because they don't have a queen. Its like they are confused and panicing and lay eggs whereever they find a spot. One little rice-shaped egg in each individual cell is a good sign! The queen is free and doing her work. We also borrowed a frame full of larva and nectar from #1 and gave it to #2 so they could catch up. We read that in a book or something....

Anyway when the inspection was over I hurried back to the house to tear off my suit before that little trapped bee had a chance to let me have it. I took off the suit and shook it out but no bee....nowhere. I do have evidence of her presence however. See that little yellow blotch on the back of my shirt? Bee poop.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lesson #7: Don't Tell George She's Drunk!!!

Headed back down to Waldo to up another package of bees last Wednesday. Another 80 bucks. Lost the Queen to hive #2 and couldn't get a new one without 10,000 bees to come along with her. Thought it was going to be a pretty run-of-the mill pick up and installation. Didn't think it was possible to have another story but sure enough, I do.

We had to drive down to Waldo after work and pick up the bees in the tavern. Turns out the beekeeper we bought them from also owns the bar. When we got there we walked in and asked if we were in the right place. Someone pointed to the far end of the bar and stacked up on one of the bar tables was about 10 or so packages of bees. Now with the bee packages they are just metal screened sides so you can see, hear and smell (yes, they have a smell) all of the bees from outside the box. So even as a new beekeeper this was a pretty strange sight to see. I mean if I was a bar owner/beekeeper I would hide the bees in a closet or back corner or Something so I wouldn't scare customers away. But that's just me.

The tavern was fairly small but had a pretty interesting decor and it was pretty dead in there-Maybe two people having drinks (perhaps due to the approx 100,000 bees in close proximity?). My plan was to just pick up the bees and head back home which is about a 1 1/2 hr drive. Greg wanted to get a beer though so we sat down at the bar. I have to admit I really didn't feel like staying but I figured it was just one beer... We weren't sitting there for more than 10 minutes before a lady swung the front screen door open letting it slam. It was loud enough to catch our attention. She kind of stumbled up to the bar and said in an extremely loud and drunken Southern Ohio draw, "Don't tell George I'm Drunk!" Her voice sounded familiar and George being the name of the guy we bought our bees from and also the tavern owner, I put two and two together and realized it must have been his wife. I had talked to her on the phone a few weeks ago when I ordered the bees She seemed much more professional then.

This was just the beginning of what turned out to be a creepy, uncomfortable yet surprisingly entertaining evening. As Greg and I were chitchatting to ourselves a chihuahua appeared out of nowhere and trotted up and down the bar like it was a normal thing for him to do. He was cute and I was amused. I doubt the local health department would approve but who cared. I went with it. He was cute and let me pet him. There was a box of condoms right on the shelf next to all the hard liquor that they were selling for 25 cents apiece. There was a nice little display of home-made pork rinds and cracklings right next to that. On the other side of the room was a bid shelf with Waldo Bee's honey and above that a fake set of boobs hanging on the wall. All these things meld so well together....Oh and there were also children hanging out playing pool behaving as if it is a normal every-day occurrence.

At some point a couple other guys trickled in the bar. On plopped down right next to me. For a while he kept looking over at me and staring at me through the mirror of the bar until he finally worked up the courage to strike up a conversation. He introduced himself as one of George's assistant beekeepers. He was hired to replace the other guy who got fired for getting a DUI on the job. He told that the old assistant punched the cop who pulled him over right in the face. Does anyone else reading this blog agree that this isn't typically something people discuss with complete strangers?

What else did this guy tell us? A lot of stuff I can't remember now. I do remember that he sounded hammered too He slurred his speech and kept spitting on my arm while he talked. Greg just kept asking him questions which made him talk even more about stuff that didn't really make sense. He did say he drove our bees all the way from Georgia. At that point another guy with bad teeth and a bushy mustache (who at some point snuck in without me noticing) chimed in and asked if we've ever been to Georgia. We said only driven through and his response went something like this:

"Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain. Beautiful. You take 75 to 109...or maybe it was 78....anyways you gotta stop at this little ole motel. Its a real hole in the wall but its great. They even give you breakfast. Well you gotta go across the street to the restaurant but its good. Then at the stop sign you take a left and take that road all the way to....ever been to Cherokee? Took my daughter there when she was four months old. Got her picture taken with a real live indian...holdin' her...just like this....Don't ever go down there without a coat because when you come back through Cincinnati you'll get cold." Crazy, random I know.

Shortly after that Greg asked our new beekeeper friend where the restroom was. His response-"Do you want the ladies' or the mens'?"  I think it was the booze talking.

Anyways, like I said I can't remember everything we talked about but it was pretty hilarious. I know I am making fun of these people but I am trying to do it in a real lighthearted way. They were complete strangers who spent time actually talking to us and giving us tips. You just wouldn't do that, talk to a stranger, in a bar here in Bowling Green. Even though I was uncomfortable at first, I had a really good time talking to these hillbillies and honestly can't wait to go back next year.

Oh and the bees are in hive #2 getting settled in. Will check back in on them in a few days. Hopefully Greg's bees can keep their queen alive this time or I will have to give them all a lesson in nurturing.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mountain Rose Herbs Recipe Contest-3 in 1 Happy Herbal Body Balm

I've decided to enter a fairly new and wonderful Recipe of mine in a contest from Mountain Rose Herbs. They are giving the winners 200 dollars worth of MRH products. I could do all sorts of fun stuff with that! Here is a link to their contest info if you would like to check it out here!

This is a super easy and fun recipe I created for multiple uses. It works great as a skin moisturizer, massage oil and aromatherapy oil. I did a little research on essential oils to find a blend that suited my nose's preference as well as doubled as a stress/anxiety reliever. The essential oils can be substituted for something that you like or whatever oils you have on hand. The end product of this recipe results in a fresh, herbaly,(I made that word up) yet sweet smelling semi-soft solid (melts at body temperature) that will fit in a small container. The sweet orange oil acts as a natural mood lifter and the lavender is excellent for relaxation. There is a hint of ylang-ylang oil in this recipe which is said to be a mood enhancer/anti-depressant and creates euphoria. It is also a well known aphrodisiac so use with caution ;) You may have to beat those of the opposite sex away with sticks.

The finished product will store for 6 months or so in a cool dry spot. All the ingredients except the beeswax (optional in this recipe) were purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs-An Earth Friendly supplier of herbs, oils, teas as well as lots of other fun stuff. Feel free to experiment with this recipe- I prefer to make it in small batches so it will fit in small, on-the go-sized containers but you could double, triple etc. to make the amount you want. I like to rub it on my skin before bed to help me relax and I've also discovered its a great moisturizer for dry elbows and chins. I plan on giving some away as gifts for some friends who could use a natural pick-me-up.

2 Tbs organic cocoa butter, chopped up or grated
1 Tbs organic sweet almond oil
1 tsp organic olive oil
1 tsp organic avocado oil
1 tsp grated beeswax-this is not necessary but I used it out of pure excitement of having my own beehives this year! Adding it makes the end product a little more solid also.
5 drops organic sweet orange essential oil
5 drops lavender essential oil
1-2 drops organic ylang-ylang essential oil (strong stuff, use sparingly!)

Using a double boiler method over medium heat, melt all ingredients together. I get a large pan with a couple inches of water and place an empty mason jar in the water and melt all the ingredients in the jar. When adding the cocoa butter and beeswax you can eyeball the amount. Its hard to be exact as these ingredients are hard at room temperature. This is a really simple recipe so you don't have to be precise. Once fully melted, blend with a spoon for at least one minute. Pour into small, covered container and allow to cool fully before use.If its too soft for your taste,  melt it down again and add a little more cocoa butter and beeswax. If its too solid for your liking add more olive or avocado oil. Easy huh?

Like I said, it makes an awesome all over body moisturizer and works even better as a massage oil-if you can get someone to give you a massage ;). It literally takes five minutes to make but you can enjoy it for weeks!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lesson #6: Learn How To Make Fake Honey In Case Your Hives Fail

And then there was one. Yesterday we had to combine the failing hive with the over-achieving one. We put a layer of newspaper down on the open top of the good hive and put the queenless hive on top of that. The idea is the bees will start chewing their way through the paper while slowly getting acclimated to each other. This should keep a bee massacre from happening. Otherwise the healthy hive would see the queenless bees as a threat and kill them. We will be checking in the next few days to see how the introduction has went. Its a fairly common practice in the beekeeping world so I'm trying not to worry about it too much.

On a more positive note We've already learned how to identify and correct this kind of problem-possibly before it becomes dire. A new package of bees has been ordered to be installed in the empty hive and will be picked up at the bar in Waldo on the 28th. I apologize for not getting some more pictures up. I do not have a good camera and have to rely on other people to get the pictures.

Last night I helped Greg make dandelion preserves. He came across a recipe in the New York Times. After spending hours meticulously picking dandelion petals from the green parts, steeping them, straining them, and boiling that down further into a thick syrup, it resulted in a very pretty gold colored jelly. Guess what? It tastes very similar to honey! This is a good recipe to have on hand in case we don't get any real honey this year. It makes a great substitute. What a great way to get rid of those unsightly (personally, I think they are pretty) yellow weeds in your yard.

ps-if you read (even if its just occasionally) my blog and haven't become a follower yet, please do. You will then get email updates every time I post something new and I can keep track of how many followers I have and decide whether its enough to continue the blog. The link should be to the right of this post. Also don't forget to vote in the poll at the top:)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lesson #5 Two Hives Are Better Than One

Tonight Greg and I checked cracked open our hives to see how they were doing. We were looking for brood larvae (baby bees) stored nectar and pollen. These are signs your hives are doing well. The good news is one of the hives is doing fantastic. We saw lots of larvae, lots of stored pollen and lots of nectar. Its doing exactly what its supposed to be doing.

The second hive is sucking-big. The number of bees is a lot lower and there is virtually no stored pollen. Worse-no larvae. This most likely means we've lost the queen in that hive and it will need to be replaced. We are still deciding what to do. I can't stop wondering what we did wrong. Did our little queen bee not measure up? Was she released too early and killed by the workers? Did she just decide she didn't like the interior decorating in the hive and take off? Who knows.

We don't have much time to figure out what to do. If you lose the egg-laying queen the hive doesn't have very long before it starts to decline and you can't save it. At this point I am really glad we paid the extra cash to get a second hive. It would have been really hard to have recognized the queen problem without having another healthy hive to compare it to. Its also nice to know that if the second hive isn't savable we won't have a total loss of honey this year.

Early on in the project I claimed ownership of the healthy hive (before it was healthy, I might add for my defense) and teased that I would train them to steal honey from Greg's hive. I shouldn't have run my mouth. Today Greg said he thinks I've coerced his bees into my hive or have found some way to sabotage his hive. I'm not sure he was joking. Is it my fault that my hive provided a more welcoming and nurturing environment than his?

I think the sooner we learn how not to get discouraged and to handle these types of set backs the better. We are probably going to walk around like we've just lost our puppies for the next few days. We were so hoping for a smooth first year and only three weeks in we have our first hurdle to jump.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lesson #4: The Sooner You Accept That You Will Always Feel Sticky, The Better

On March 31, 2010 I became an official beekeeper. I wish I had a very dramatic story for you all but installing the bees into our hives was really the easiest part of this whole endeavor. After bringing home 20,000 bees in the back of my car (50 or so escaped and flew around freely as I drove the last 10 miles home) we installed the bees that evening. It was definitely a family affair. My intimidate family was there to watch, including my sister Sara and her husband Vic. Their new baby, Trevor stayed inside with Grandma. Sara had her very expensive, very nice camera with her and I have her to thank for the awesome pictures.

My beekeeping partner and I had been preparing for this day for weeks. We went to workshops, read books, watched videos online and had frequent and long conversations about how this day would play out. Based on everything that has happened so far, I expected that the bee installation would result in at least a trip to the emergency room. But this did not happen much to my relief!

We put on our bee suits, grabbed the packages, sprayed them down with sugar water so the bees couldn't fly away and just dumped them in. We hung the queen cage in the hive and closed them up. That was it. We kind of just stood there for a while shrugging and wondering if we missed anything but we didn't. That was it. I don't know why everyone isn't a beekeeper. It was really that simple. Well maybe people avoid beekeeping because of the thousands of stinging insects or maybe the fortune it costs to buy the materials. Okay, I don't know why a MORE people aren't beekeepers. If you get the chance, check out Sara's pictures of the installation on my facebook page.

Over the past two weeks Greg and I have been making sure they have sugar syrup in the feeders. They use sugar syrup in place of nectar until the flowers get going in the spring. we have to drive out to our little bee yard and check almost every day. So far my guesstimate is that we've gone through almost 4, 5lb bags of sugar keeping them fed which is a lot more than I've expected. I am going to have to consider buying those huge 50 lb bags that collect dust on the bottom of the grocery store shelves. Now I know why people buy them. I've also discovered that sugar syrup always finds its way out of the containers I put them in. Over the weekend, I had a 1/2 gallon jug of syrup mysteriously spill all over the back of my new Rogue. (I've had it less than a year and bought it with 4 miles on it.) I was pretty upset. How did that happen when I twisted the cap as tightly as I could to make sure it wouldn't leak? I also wonder how sugar syrup winds up all over my counters when I know I didn't spill any. I also manage to get sugar syrup on my clothes, on my hands and in my hair when I am making it and when I am refilling the feeders no matter how careful I am. I suppose I must chalk it up to one of the mysteries of beekeeping.

On Thuesday (and I am calling it Thuesday because my days are running together and I cant remember whether it was Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday) we fired up one of the smokers and checked to see if the queens were released from their cages. They were! This means she is either crawling around the hive making baby bees or that the worker bees have rejected and eaten her. Not confusing at all, right? However, our bees have been busy collecting pollen on the warmer days we've had and so far by the looks of things everything is going well. They are so fun to watch! I could stand out there for hours just watching them fly in and out of the hives with the different colors of pollen they are finding. Just yesterday I considered getting a folding lounge chair and hang out with them for a while. I found out that if I stand close to the hives for too long they start to get irritated. I can tell that they are irritated when they start flying around my face. I think this is there way of cursing me out. I also realized if I'm not careful I am going to turn in to that crazy insect-loving, wacko lady that people don't let their children hang out with.

Today I spent $47.59 on organic ingredients for making lip balm and body butter with the copious amounts of beeswax and honey I hope to get later this summer. I am really excited about it! Next week (if the weather is warm and less windy) Greg and I will open up the hives and check to see if our queens are laying eggs. If not, we will have to scramble and get replacement queens right away. I'm pretty optimistic though. All signs currently point to happy, busy little bees!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lesson #3: Wear Lots Of Layers When Picking Up Your Bees

We ordered our bee packages several weeks ago from a small business called Waldo Bees. Greg said when he placed his order over the phone the guy had a really low voice. So logically I came to the conclusion that he was a pirate. Who wouldn't? I was also told we would be meeting the pirate in the parking lot of a bar in Waldo to pick up our bee packages. Thus, this is where the pirate and the bar come into play. Anyway per the usual we got a little lost on the way there because it just wouldn't be a real road trip if we didn't. It didn't take long to find the bar after we figured out the right direction we should be going in. There were several pickup trucks parked there along with a good sized trailer and stacks add stacks of bee packages lined up next to it. I guess we were in the right place.

We had to give each other a little pep talk before we got out of the car. "We can do this, no problem. Its gonna be awesome." There was no turning back after we put two crates of 10,000 bees(3lbs of bees in each box to give you a better idea)in the back of my car. Greg went up and talked to the guy holding the clipboard. You always know who is in charge by who is holding the clipboard. It was the pirate guy with the really low voice. Only he really didn't look much like a pirate to be honest. It would have been a much more exciting story if he had so I was a little disappointed but one thing I did find fairly hilarious about him was the odd contrast of his tattered and dirty bib overalls with his blue tooth headset he was wearing. He was obviously way more technologically advanced than I am despite the fact that he looked like a farmer- the 1900's era farmer, not the 2000's era kind. Shame on me for stereotyping. Lesson learned.

The pirate checked his clipboard and yelled something about being "all paid up" and "two packages" to another guy who was removing the bee packages from the trailer. He had lots of facial hair and was all decked out in camo. Do the bees have a harder time stinging you if you are wearing camo? The guy picked up two packages and followed us to my car. We opened the tailgate and he sat the boxes right on the floor. This is where Greg and I got our very first look at the packages of bees up close and shared a terrified look. It wasn't the thousands of bees crawling around inside the box that frightened us (although it would probably freak out any normal person) it was the 100 or so bees crawling around on the OUTSIDE OF THE BOXES that had us worried. Seriously, there were a whole bunch of bees just hanging on to the outside of the boxes that the camo guy sat in my car. Fun. When Greg tried to put the packages in a box and close the flaps, the guy said "I wouldn't do that if I were you." I barely listened to anything else the guy said to Greg but he certainly didn't offer any useful information about what we SHOULD do. All I managed to hear(I was too busy freaking out) was him explaining that they need lots of air and cool temperatures during transportation. There are so many bees crammed into a little box that they can overheat. I really don't know why the camo guy didn't acknowledge the fact or make any effort to knock or brush off the rogue bees before plopping them down in my car and I don't know why we didn't try to brush them off ourselves or question him about how to keep them confined. I guess we didn't want to look like we didn't know what we were doing. We didn't want to look like we were worried about a hundred loose bees flying around in our car while we are driving 75 miles per hour down the highway. Beekeepers are cool like that.

As soon as the guy walked away we moved the boxes into a couple extra cardboard boxes and closed the flaps. Our game plan was to drive fast, keep the ac on full blast and hope to hell we make it home before they found a way out and came looking for us. It got so chilly in the car that my hands started to go numb, Greg was shivering uncontrollably and we both could see our breaths. We made it about half way home when I heard a buzz and looked through my mirror in time to see a little black shadow pop out of one of the boxes. It was just one bee. We could handle one little bee loose in the car. I started getting the creepy crawlies. I even imagined I was feeling a bee crawling around on my foot. Unfortunately, by the time I had dropped Greg off at his place that one little rogue bee had turned into four or five. Some were just crawling around on the windows and some were airborne. And by the time I got half-way to my parent's place where we were storing them until that evening, there were about twenty bees flying around in my car. Miraculously, I managed to get home without getting stung once! When I got out of the car I found that there were a lot more bee escape artists than I originally thought. First, the imaginary bee crawling around on my foot turned out to be a real one. Second, There were about 20 or thirty bees crawling around the floor and the outside of the cardboard box. And I managed accomplished all of this before 9:30 in the morning!

I got the packaged bees in the garage(don't worry only 30 more or so would get loose in the garage throughout the day)and spent the next twenty minutes trying to get the rogue bees out of my vehicle. On my way to work in the afternoon more bees turned up in my car. I even had one fly out of my purse as I was walking through the parking lot. All in all, a pretty uneventful day. In defense of the bees, it was really amazing how docile they were. I was able to brush some of them out with my bare hands. Luckily for me this was probably partially due to the fact that the inside my car was 35 degrees, which kept them sluggish, but also (hopefully) because we picked a really gentle breed of bee to work with-Italians. There are a variety of breeds of honey bee that you can buy and the Italians are popular for this reason.

My next blog will have some pictures and will be about installing the bees in the hives. Ironically, this is probably going to be the least dramatic story I've posted yet. Stay tuned! If you read my blog and haven't become a follower yet please do. You can get email updates each time I post a new blog. I will also try to get some recipes using honey every once in a while. That should be fun.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lesson #2: Just Because Someone Says "I Checked To Make Sure Your Oder Is Right" Doesn't Mean They Actually Checked To Make Sure Your Order Was Right

So after our workshop at the Ohio Beekeepers Association in Wooster, We found out that there is a very short time frame in which you need to get your sh** together if you want to be a beekeeper. Coming out of the workshop, we realized that we should have ordered everything including our bees and queens back in February. So we really had move if we wanted to get started this year. We looked at some supply catalogs and thought the simplest thing to do was order starter kits (includes hives, frames,protective wear, smokers, tools ect.).We also wanted to buy full bee suits rather than rely on hats and gloves alone because as this is our first year, we are a little uncomfortable with the idea of going without full armor. Well all of this stuff we ordered from a company called Dadant. We thought it best to pick them up at their store in Albion, Michigan instead of having everything delivered. The shipping would have cost us a hundred bucks or more because of the weight of all the supplies. It was time for a little road trip.

We got to Dadant after about a two hour drive in the rain. Thank you Greg for getting tired of hearing me complain about driving in the rain and taking my keys away from me. This Dadant place was basically a big warehouse with a very tiny store front. When the employee finished helping a couple, he helped us pick out a bee suit. He is a pretty big guy, I'd say over 6 feet tall and pretty stocky too (to put it nicely). His shirt was way too small for him and in reflection, I think he looked like a human version of Winnie the poo. No wonder he is in the honey business.

When he was ringing us out he started telling us all kinds of stories. Some about beekeeping, some having nothing to do with beekeeping. I mean, this guy talked our ears off. He gave us tips about when to work with the bees. "Whatever you do, don't work with em when its windy, just rained, is about to rain, or is raining." "Don't work with em in the morning or in the evening, and don't wear deodorant." What? No deodorant? Apparently you can't use any scented soaps, lotions, shampoos, deodorants, ect. because it agitates the bees. So now I have to go out and buy unscented toiletries to keep the bees from attacking me. Fantastic.

The worker gave us plenty of no-so-useful tips while he was helping us also. How to please your wife, girlfriend or significant other by making chicken stew for dinner, how he played dirty football in high school (throwing salt or lemon juice in other players' eyes), how he is a diabetic and was recovering from a leg infection and surgeries (gross), and a wide variety of other topics that I can no longer remember.

This still unnamed fellow eventually got around to ringing up our order which came to a whopping 730-some dollars-GASP!! Thank you Greg for taking care of that. I am keeping track of the tab. The guy told us he hoped we had a very large vehicle for our order. He told us to meet him at the overhead door around the other side of the building to load our stuff. He met us outside with a hug pallet stacked with a bunch of huge boxes-our boxes. While Greg was trying to figure out how to put the seats down in my little Nissan Rogue, The man finally introduced himself as "Tiny Tim". How fitting for a giant, human version of Winnie the Poo.

While Tiny Tim stood there watching us struggle to pack my little SUV with enormous boxes he asked me what my name was. When I said "Erica" he said "well Erica, do you like sweet stuff?" Well I thought this was an odd question, but without really reasoning I answered "Yes, of course!" Then he said "Follow me! I have something I think you will like." Greg looked like he was doing a fine job of loading the car and I all I was thinking about was sweet stuff so I followed him back into the warehouse.

All the while I was following Tiny Tim through a very creepy , very dimly lit area of the building I never realized that I had just let a strange and giant man lure me into a dark corner with treats! You'd think this is where my stranger danger sense should have kicked in but I guess I was more concerned with what kind of delicious treat he was about to give me. He took me back to a storage room and showed me a monstrous box of honey candy. He gave me a bag and said I could have as much as I wanted! Awesome. I took a couple huge handfuls-didn't want to be too greedy now. Then Tiny Tim led be back out into the light of day where my friend had just finished up loading the boxes, seeming to have no concern for the fact that a complete stranger-and I mean strange-was successful in tempting me into follow him into a dark deserted building with the promise of candy. Thanks for having my back Greg :) It was only in reflection that I realized the "don't take candy from strangers" rule I learned in kindergarten never sunk in.

Tiny Tim suggested we hit up a little diner on the way out of town. He said, and I quote, " Good food, large portions and nooooo hovering." When he said this he put his arms out and made a hovering gesture that made both Greg and I snicker. He looked like a bear about to attack a hiker or something. You probably would have had have been there to see the humor in it but we thought it was so funny that we repeat that phrase every time we get the chance and I even made Greg do the hovering pose for the photo above. We went to the restaurant and it was pretty marginal. But Tiny Tim was right, the waitress didn't hover. In fact, we only saw her when she took our order and gave us our bill. Personally, I like attentive waitresses. If I need mayo she isn't far away. If my coffee needs warmed up she will notice. If I choke on an olive she is there to perform the Heimlich.

We took all our stuff home, opened the boxes, set up a hive indoors for fun.....and realized a bunch of stuff was missing. about half a dozen (and very important)parts to our kit were m.i.a. This is interesting because Tiny Tim made a point to tell us he checked to make sure our order was right at some point before we left. Funny. Greg was pretty pissed but I wasn't too concerned because I had a bag full of delicious honey candy to keep me content. It is hard for me to be angry at anyone who's given me bags full of sugary sweets. We did get some of our stuff shipped to us last week but are still waiting on a pair of gloves- which should have come with the replacement items and didn't. I have a feeling this isn't the last we will be hearing from Tiny Tim. In all honesty though, he seems like a genuinely kind and helpful person and he really gave us some decent pointers for beekeeping. He also gave us quite the memory of picking up our very first beehives!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lesson Number 1: I might end up sucking at beekeeping.

Some of you are may be wondering why I've decided to become a beekeeper. In short, I am doing this because I like honey and want lots of it. But there are other reasons too. We need bees and other pollinators (that are declining in numbers due to habitat loss, climate change, diseases, ect.) to help grow our food and it feels good to support them and all the positive things that come with them. And I like a little challenge now and then.

I've always been interested in beekeeping but never thought I had the nerve, the knowledge or resources to be able to do it until I met Greg, my partner in this crazy project. I have more in common with him than anybody I've ever met and he is the only person who can answer more questions correctly than me while watching Jeopardy. So it is to him that I owe so much gratitude. Without his willingness to try beekeeping with me, I wouldn't have never gotten the courage to take the first step. I am also very thankful to his employer who are much more financially supportive than mine!

A few months after Greg and I met I found out he took a beekeeping class while in college. How awesome is that! We talked about how it would be fun to have a couple hives but nothing ever materialized until January of 2010 when we brought the subject up again. We did an internet search to see if there were any workshops or classes on the subject in our area. Sure enough there was an annual conference and workshop for Ohio beekeepers in early March. I signed us up, we went (along with about a thousand other people) and on our way home we said "Lets do it!" So there you have it. That's how we came about deciding to try out beekeeping for the first time. We didn't ponder it or do much rationalizing. Its not really our style. We just couldn't think of any reason not to try it.

This is the first of (hopefully) many updates about my first year of beekeeping. Once I started telling people that I was going to get a hive, I was really surprised at all the positive feedback I've gotten. I guess a lot of people like honey too! So far, the most important thing I've learned from the books, websites, classes and even a seasoned beekeeper or two is this;I might suck at it. My bees might die or abandon my hive... and I most definitely will get stung. Sounds fun right? I don't know why everyone doesn't keep bees in their backyards!

I have a few more stories to follow soon. Our meeting of "Tiny Tim" and the fiasco of trying to get our supplies will probably be next. I also recently found out that Greg ordered our bees from a pirate and we will be meeting him at a bar to pick them up- so yeah, that is good material for another post as well. Please be forewarned, if my bees die, abandon the hive, don't make any honey or I get stung to death, this blog will come to an abrupt end. So stay tuned.