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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

what the hell, bees?

Every time I think I have the beekeeping situation under control, something happens. I checked the giant hives on Saturday, removed some frames of nectar and pollen in the deep boxes so to give more room to the queen to lay her eggs. I then put the frames that were full of pollen and nectar in each of the nucs (nucleus hives or hives that started from the giant. I wish I had made better observations of how much capped brood was in the hive, but that's all I did. I added another honey super (it now has two). In both of the nucs, the queen cells had been released (or killed?) but I did not try to search for them because they wouldn't be laying eggs right after hatching anyways.  They were as calm as I ever had seen them and I thought things were progressing nicely. But I didn't check the lower brood boxes in the giant hive. I thought "hey, as long as they are storing a ton of honey, they're doing great!"

Today, I wanted to see if I could find queens in the nucs since the weather was fantastic. I opened up the newest nuc, the one that I had only put two frames of brood and bees in and a cluster of capped queen cells.  The first thing I did was spot a queen. She crawled right over my finger on a frame that was empty for the most part. No mistake, it was a queen. I checked the rest of the queen cells and found that they had been chewed up. I am guessing this queen destroyed them before they hatched. Its too early for a just hatched queen to be laying eggs, she probably isn't even mated yet. So what, maybe a 50% chance she mates and comes back to the hive and starts laying successfully? I put the hive back together.

In the older nuc, not much has changed other than the queen cells have all been uncapped. So, queens have emerged but none to be found. I took out every frame and never found a queen. So what the hell? Does this mean that the queen or queens were out mating? Does this mean that the split didn't work? Is it too early to tell? At this point in time, I discovered that the bees were getting a little more hostile. One crawled up my shirt and stung me on my lower back. Sob. All I could do was scratch my head and close up the hive.

Now, by the time I got to the giant hive, the clouds started rolling in out of nowhere. I looked at the honey supers and found them to be full of bees, storing quite a bit of nectar. Both supers are at full capacity. No empty cells to put eggs. When I dug into the deeps I found the majority of the frames were full of nectar and pollen. The empty frames that I had put in to replace the full ones I had stolen for the other hives, were barely touched, the bees didn't seem to interested in drawing it out with wax. No eggs or larva means no new bees. No new bees means the hive will be done by mid summer.

All the frames I checked were full of pollen or nectar and I never found any eggs or young larva. There were a few patches of capped brood but few.  My immediate thought was what if the hive swarmed without me knowing it. No, too many bees still. Then I wondered if I had accidentally taken the queen out and put her in one of the nucs when I was replacing frames. No, I'm pretty sure I didn't. I am getting good at spotting the queen and I don't think I would have missed her. My guess is she's in there but not laying eggs because she doesn't have room? Maybe. I'm totally freaking! I'm already sweaty and swollen and here comes my grandpa on the lawn mower. He just wants to take a closer look but loud noises and beehives don't miz=x well. Great. I just put the hive back together. By this time it was cloudier and the bees were agitated  and there wasn't anything else I could do.

I came home to do some research. Yes. Queens will stop laying if they are honey bound. Makes sense. Some people put a third deep on hives that are honey bound in order to stimulate the queen to lay. This will be the game plan for the next *nice* day. I will also add another super for good measure. It makes my back sore just thinking about it. It also will make the hive as tall as me.  A deep that is full of honey weighs 90 pounds. Instead of just having to lift two on and off the hive, I'll have to lift three. It probably explains why the bees have been so angry and why I can't find new eggs. Probably. Or it means that the queen is gone but no way to know for a week or so.

I also did something I've never did before. I done ordered a replacement queen for whichever hive needs it next week. If one doesn't produce a queen they can have her. Or maybe I will put her in the giant hive to see if it improves their bitchiness. She is being delivered at the end of next week. She is coming from northern Indiana. My choices were to get a cheaper queen accustomed to warm weather- from California and drive two hours alone to pick her up, which doesn't make much sense, or to pay more for a survivor stock queen that came from a strain of bees that do well in the winter. Not a very hard decision, well not for my brain. It was a little tough on my purse.

****Today (we're going into the future! actually, most of this post was written on 5/8 and published on 5/10) I put the third deep on. Still didn't find eggs or a sign of the queen. Yes, that beehive is definitely as tall as me now. Makes me nervous with all this Ohio wind. Next weekend I will have to take off one of the supers that is full of nectar and split it among all three hives, switching out their empty combs with the full ones. Then I'll give some of the empty combs back to the giant hive. I am a little overwhelmed with the amount of labor intensive work it has been. I really enjoy beekeeping when they are doing what I want them to do. I am a mess when they go rogue on me and do the unexpected. What the hell, bees? Just do the shit you are supposed to do already!

I feel like I don't have the back up support I need sometimes. I don't know any beekeepers in the area very well and the ones around would probably gasp at my methods. "What? You're not going to use pesticides in your hives?" Some I've talked to kind of made me feel like one of those silly agrarian movement folks who will get tired of it in two years when it isn't cool anymore. Therefore didn't want to give me the time of day. I feel like I am in this alone.

In my stress storm, I may have told someone that I wanted to dump all the bees at his front door. I took it back but it sure did feel good to say at the time.

In other news, I decided I want to start collecting honey from all over the country. My cousin (I think he is my cousin?) in Arizona is sending me some honey from out there and I started thinking about how fun it would be to try honey from other states. So, to anyone who randomly finds and reads this blog, I would love to swap honey with you! A jar of my Black Swamp Wildflower Honey for a jar of your or your local "insert cute regional honey name here". Put your contact info in the comments section and I will be in touch.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

several more things

Overall, it has been a productive weekend for me. I planted my herbs. Rosemary, tarragon, chocolate mint, lemon thyme, sweet basil, thai basil and curry. I had sage, english thyme, and lemon balm winter over from last year. The mints and lemon balm will make some awesome teas. I plan on cutting some and drying them to put in my reusable tea bags. Most varieties of mint are great for upset stomachs and indigestion and lemon balm helps promote relaxation while having a really great lemony sweet taste.If you are just starting out with the gardening hobby, herbs are a fantastic way to dip your toes in. They are easy to grow, take up little space and you get to cook fun things with them! I'm waiting for some Greek oregano and marjoram to go on sale at the greehouses, then I'll have pretty much everything I need.

I sowed a row of shell and snow peas and red beets and finally transplanted my rainbow chard. My black cherry tomatoes, amish pastes and my varietal hot chile peppers are on the patio being hardened off.
one of last years harvests of black cherry and paste tomatoes.

I checked out my alpine strawberries that I started from seed last year (no easy feat!)and found them setting fruit!
alpine stawberries. Super tiny (the size of my thumbnail) but supposedly bursting with flavor.

Yesterday I checked my bees. The first split looks successful. I took my cousin out with me when I did my inspection (he wants bees) and we spotted a queen in the newly established hive. I didn't see any eggs so it means she may not have been mated yet but if she doesn't make it there are two other queen cells that have not hatched out yet, so two more chances. If it doesn't work, I'll join the two splits and see if I can order a queen. I really don't want to do that because I think my strain of bees, even though they can be grouchy, are an industrious strain and I don't want to mess with there genes if they are successful. We were lucky yesterday. They were as calm as I've ever seen them. It was very sunny and warmer and I don't think they had any recent visits by the lawnmower :)
and then there were three. a burgeoning bee yard.

Another little project I am working on is trying to turn the below chunk of burr comb into a necklace. I am going to shellack it and put it on a chain.  I don't know, maybe paint it too. I love the intricate design of honeycomb. Fake honeycomb jewelry is starting to become popular on etsy and I think mine will be cooler because it is actually real honeycomb. Burr comb (honeycomb built somewhere in the hive where you don't want it) pops up in beehives every once in a while and most beekeepers remove it because it gets in the way and ends up being damaged anyway. This particular piece I found in a gap between frames. I had to remove it because I needed to put another frame of wax right where it was hanging. I will post a picture of the finished product.

If you are interested in honeybee issues and colony collapse disorder, I would like to recommend a few different websites to check out and get more info. You can support small-scale beekeeping operations like mine (okay mine is uber small) by purchasing local honey and donating to organizations that support healthy pollinating insect populations. Did you know that a lot of the mass market honey you buy in supermarkets comes from China? Much of it has been tested to not even be real honey. They often water it down with HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)

Just yesterday I donated to a grass roots organization that promotes organic super foods and bee products. When you donate, you also get a "perk", such as 10 packets of African honey. What a great way to promote a good cause. I think its pretty awesome. Check it here.

The National Honey Board has Tons of fun recipes that contain honey. This week they shared a recipe for honey margaritas!

Check out this rare, Hawaiian white honey. I want some.

 I want to go here sometime. My friend's Mom went and raved to me about it. They have a honey tasting bar. Yummy. And they have honey roasted coffee! OMG, If you have ever wronged me in any way and want to make up for it, or would like to make up for the fact that you never got me a birthday present, or Christmas present, or Valentines Day Present, or just love me in general and want to show me how much ....Get me the honey roasted coffee.

I'm sorry, its just that time of year, when my posts will be 75% about bees.

I try to learn as much as I can about bees and beekeeping so that I can manage my hives in a way that is both productive for me and for the bees. I recently ran into some information about propolis, a product of the bees. It is a plant resin that the bees gather to use inside the hive. It comes from trees and flowers and honeybees bring it in and use it as a cement/medicine for the hive. They use it to glue the lid and frames down, seal cracks and if any foreign object gets in that they can't drag out, say a mouse got in and died there, they will mummify it in propolis. It has anti fungal and anti viral properties. Humans have used it medicinally for years and recent science has found that it actually works. When I tore down one of my empty hives, I scraped out all the propolis, found a recipe for homemade propolis extract (costs 15-12 dollars for 1/2 oz in drugstores). You can use it topically and internally for all sorts of ailments and to overall boost immunity. I know for a fact (tried it myself) that propolis makes a great natural sore throat remedy. So this week I will be making some propolis extract. All you have to do is take a big hunk of the stuff break it up into small hunks, put it in a jar with some vodka, leave it for 2 months, let it evaporate to 50%, strain out the hunks and its ready to use. Hopefully it will be a good thing to have on hand for this coming winter's bugs.
propolis-a silly putty like goo that the bees use the same way we use duct tape. It fixes everything. I actually eneded up with a golf ball sized hunk by the time I was done scraping. I like saying hunk.

And now for my ridiculously easy recipe for homemade body wash. Okay, so it isn't exactly homemade-but it is home customized. All you have to do is the following:

1.) purchase a bottle of baby mild unscented Dr. Bronner's (DB) organic castile soap. Try to refrain from reading all the freaky religious stuff on the label and just get down to business. Who am I kidding? I read the whole label too.
2.) purchase an essential oil of your choice (can be found at health food stores and online)
3.) scrounge up an empty bottle
4.)Pour DB in bottle
5.) put 5 drops per ounce of soap; A three ounce bottle needs 15 drops. Gotta love math!
6.) put cap back on bottle (this is important) and shake it up
7.) use your soap in shower.

There you have it. A DIY organic soap that you made yourself. DB is a pretty reasonable priced organic castile soap and it is made here in the united states by a progressive company with strong sustainability practices.  Last winter I bought a bottle of Pacifica Sandalwood natural body wash. I love the stuff,it smells amazing and they are a eco-friendly company. However, an 8 oz bottle costs about 9 bucks. You can get a 32 oz bottle of DB for about 13 bucks. More ....BINGO! Making your own this way is not only kind of fun, but it is cheaper than many other eco-friendly body washes.

 You can use lots of different essential oils depending on your mood. Lavender is really easy to find and is great for stress and relaxation. If you invest in a bottle of this oil, it will last you a very long time and has many other uses besides making body wash. Mountain Rose Herbs as a mind blowing selection of organic EO's and you can follow the link which is on the sidebar.  Also, there are other brands of castile soap but I haven't tried them. I imagine that they would work about the same. If you like a more strongly scented soap, use more EO and if you like a more lightly scented soap use less than the 5 drops per/1 oz ratio that I use. Also if for any reason you have a sensitivity to EO's or have to avoid it for health reasons (pregnancy) you can find skin safe synthetic fragrances online or in the soap making section of a craft store. You could even add a drop of food coloring if you want, but don't go too crazy and wind up with pink or blue tinted skin.

When selecting your bottle, any used plastic squeeze bottle would do. I using smaller bottles because I like variety. In the summer I like lavender and citrus blends while in the fall and winter I like warmer scents like sandalwood, vanilla and florals. I have quite a collection of EO's because I use them for so many things. DB is a fairly runny liquid but it is concentrated-a little goes a long way and it suds up nicely. Not only can you use it for your body but it can be used as a laundry and dish detergent, bug repellent, facial soap, natural pesticide and shampoo.

Oh hey there, good music!

Um, okay time to take that bunch of spearmint pictured above, make a mojito and go back to day dreaming about the solar wax melter that I conned a wonderfully amazing person to build for me this fall...