Category Archives: Bees

Our First Apple Crop

This has truly been a wacky year for food production at the farm. Some things that normally grow in abundance have floundered and some things that have never produced before have done well. Apples were among the crops that did relatively well this year.

We have seven young apple trees of various varieties that we have planted in the past six years, three of which we planted in April of 2011 before we even closed on the property. Each year the apple trees have had had at least some blossoms in the spring but they never developed into more than a few apples. Last fall, as an experiment, I put a small amount of wood ash around the base of three of the trees. This spring nearly all of the trees blossomed heavily so I am not certain how much effect the wood ash had.

In May, when the apple trees were in full bloom, we had several mornings of heavy frost. Since the frost damaged asparagus, rhubarb and grape leaves, I am still stumped that our apple trees were unaffected.

Our honey bees were more that happy to do their part in our apple production, flying from blossom to blossom and tree to tree collecting pollen from one blossom and redistributing a portion of it on the next blossom while they collected their pollen from that one.

Honey bee – too busy to pose for a picture

Being our first apple crop we didn’t know what to expect and it seems that our apples fell victim to bugs, worms and disease.  Then to add insult to injury the crows  decided to make our apples part of their diet.

A couple weeks ago when my husband was tired of watching our apples being destroyed he decided to pick what might still be good before the crows got anymore. He first brought home a bag of red apples and since I was busy that day, probably cleaning garlic, I put them in the refrigerator and half forgot about them. A couple days later he brought home these golden delicious.


He had been talking about dehydrating apples or making apple chips for a few weeks so I decided to use the useable part of these apple to make chips.

When I peeled the apples I was pleasantly surprised to see that the blemishes, which I have not positively identified but might be apple scab, were only skin deep. Once I removed the peel there was no evidence of disease.


I peeled, cored and sliced the apples. I placed the slices in a single layer on my dehydrator trays. Each tray held about four apples.


I filled up all nine trays and realized I had peeled way too many apples. So I needed to come up with a semi-quick or easy way to use the other half of those apples. Since fruit pies are a favorite dessert here and pie filling freezes well I decided to make apple pie filling.

I know that golden delicious apples are not necessarily a cooking apple so I was happy to find a recipe for pie filling that just called for apples instead of “cooking apples” or a specific variety of apples. Not that it would have mattered because I often change up recipes, substituting what I have on hand for what is called for in the recipe. Sometimes it turns out really well and sometimes not so good. The apple pie filling is in the freezer for now but I am certain that we will enjoy the apple pie that it makes.

The apple chips on the other hand are disappearing quickly. They make a nice snack.


When I took them out of the dehydrator, after about 18 hours, I packaged each tray of apple chips in a sealable plastic sandwich bag. This way I know that the package contains about four apples or four servings. Then I put the bags in jars for storage. It is important to know an approximate serving size because these apple chips are so good that it could be easy to get carried away and eat way too many. I warned my husband that eating a whole bag at one time was not a good idea, and that you need to make sure you drink enough water when eating dried fruit. He told me that this was a lesson he learned as a kid – the hard way.

A few days ago when I was looking for a side dish to go with the stuffed green peppers I made for dinner, I came across the “half forgotten” bag of apples in the refrigerator.

Stuffed Peppers

I decided to cook up some apple sauce. I didn’t need a recipe for this because I have cooked and canned apple sauce many times in the past. Although many of these apples had bites taken out of them (crows) and a few had worms in them, I was able to cut away enough of the bad parts and cook up a wonderful dish of apple sauce. To make apple sauce, after I peeled, cored and cut away any bad parts, I put the apples in a pan with a small amount of water. I brought it to a boil then turned it to low and let it simmer until the apples were very soft. I then mashed the apples with a potato masher. I then continue to let is simmer and thicken up a little. There was no need to add sweetener. I put it in a bowl and chilled it before dinner and it made the perfect side dish.

Over the next few months we will be researching natural options for controlling disease and insects on the apple trees with hopes of growing even better crops in the future, and who knows we might even build a scarecrow or two.

Mystery Solved -Thank You Lisa!

Our Mystery Plant is a Mountain Mint. plant attracted my attention when I saw our honey bees heavily foraging in it. We are in a wildflower transition period where the blossoms on the Sweet Clover and Canadian Thistle are waning and the Golden Rod is just beginning to open. It seems the bees are foraging mostly on white clover which we have much of but we were happy to find something else that they loved.


My husband and I searched all of our plant reference books and several online data bases and were unable to identify this plant. The plant had grown up in an area where we had planted a wild flower seed mix several years ago. So I decided to go to what I assumed was the source. The wild flower seed mix we planted was from American Meadows . We first search their website and were unable to find any plant that resembled our mystery plant. I then decided to contact the company. I used the contact form on their website and included a picture of the plant I was trying to I.D. This was on Sunday. I received an automated reply that day saying they received my message and would try to respond within 48 hours.

My husband and I continued to search online wildflower data bases to no avail and on Monday I received an email from Lisa at American Meadows. She thought the plant in the photo was Yarrow. I replied immediately. At first glance the plant may look like Yarrow, but we also have Yarrow growing on the farm and there are several differences in the two plants. The flowers are different, but more noticeable is the difference in the leaf structure and I have never seen the bees visit Yarrow.

I sent Lisa a second photo of our mystery plant which showed the leaves more clearly. Lisa replied that same day. From this picture she could now see that the plant was not Yarrow. She could not identify the plant but if I could send a close up of the flowers she would “call in the troops” to help find our answer. On Wednesday I sent a couple more photos, described the light scent of the flowers and told her we lived in South-East Michigan.

Later that day I was surprised and excited to receive Lisa’s email. It read: “Success!

The plant is Mountain Mint, probably Pycnanthemum virginianum, which is the common species in Michigan. There is a related species that is much less common, called Pycnanthemum tenuifolium. The main difference is that P. virginianum has pubescent stems, whereas the stems of P. tenuifolium are glabrous (i.e., not hairy). I can’t see the stems well enough on your photos to tell whether the stems are pubescent or not.”

Lisa said her source of this information was a botanist here in Michigan.

I did an internet search and found photos of Mountain Mint and discovered that it was indeed what we had. I at first believed it was Pycnanthemum virginianum, the more common species. On Thursday after I read Lisa’s message a second time I began to question that. I didn’t remember this plant having hairy stems. On my next trip to the farm I confirmed this. The stems of our Mountain Mint are smooth. We have the less common of the two, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium. Common names for this plant are Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint,  Common Horsemint, and Slender Mountain Mint. My husband and I could not be more thrilled than to have this mystery solved. We will encourage this plant to spread and perhaps even propagate it.

This might go without saying but in a day and age where good customer service is hard to find I have to say that we greatly appreciate the help that we received from Lisa at American Meadows. She certainly could have determined that our plant was not something that came in the seeds we received from them an left us on our own. Instead she went the extra mile to help us solve the mystery. At this time we do not have a need to purchase wild flower seed but if we ever do we will return to American Meadows and perhaps if you decided to purchase wild flower seed you will consider them as well.



Pond Pictures – Relax and Enjoy

I know what it’s like, too often life gets crazy and busy and we just don’t have time to enjoy the simple beauty that nature has to offer. I try to take a least a few minutes each day to just walk and observe our farm. Today I invite you to join me for some views of our pond. If you were with me these are some of the things I would point out to you.

IMG_2876The honey bees have discovered that the lavender is blossoming. Honey bees and bumble bees love lavender.


My husband and I agree that dragon flies are the coolest insects. We see them in various shapes and sizes and many amazingly beautiful colors. After reading more about dragon flies on this website I’m not surprised at our fascination with them.


This website about dragon flies mating was also very interesting, but definitely left me with questions. My questions were mainly who studied this? and how did they study this?


The dragon flies are not only fascinating to watch, they seem friendly, at times, as they rest on a finger or hitch a ride on a shoulder. They don’t bite or sting and they apparently dine on a lot of less desirable insects.


The above photo, which my husband and I had been referring to as a dragon fly, is actually a damsel fly. Closely related to the dragon fly the damsel flies are also welcomed and admired on our farm.


The honey bees are drinking from the pond. This one is coming in for a landing.


Honey bees are our second favorite insect. We have put a lot of money, time and effort into beekeeping and we are happy to know that our bees have a clean water source.


This year the bees are choosing to drink from an area on the edge of the pond, where we placed rocks last fall. In past years I have seen honey bees drinking on the beach and other areas along the shore.IMG_2901

Turtles, if you were with me you would see more. We have turtles of various sizes and ages who live in the pond, and I saw at least three of them on this day. Apparently turtles are camera shy because as soon as they saw me point the camera in their direction they would submerge and swim away.

IMG_2911Not at all camera shy, this handsome frog was the perfect model. No need to turn him into a prince; we love this little bug eater just the way he is.

This is but a glimpse of the things we would see and the things we would talk about as we spent some time enjoying the beauty of our pond. Thanks for taking a few minutes to relax and enjoy.




Five Hives

As of Monday, May 23 rd., we have five hives of honey bees.

We were working at the farm in the morning, my husband planting tomatoes while I was weeding the prayer garden and marshmallow garden . We took about an hour for lunch and decided to get right back at it. As my husband walked toward the field where he was going to start planting pepper plants I heard him say, “We have a swarm”.


I grabbed my camera and walked in his direction. I saw the bees still getting themselves organized in an Autumn Olive tree. The way they were landing it looked like two separate swarms but by the time they had finished they had all come together as one large swarm.


One of the nice things about the location of our apiary is that it is surrounded by trees so when it is time for a swarm of bees to move to a new location their first stop is usually in one of the nearby trees. The Autumn Olive which is in bloom right now is very fragrant and I don’t blame them for choosing this tree.

Swarming is how honey bees colonies reproduce. When the hive begins to become over crowded the bees produce a new queen. They do this by building special brood cells which are known as queen cells. The queen larvae is then fed exclusively on royal jelly. The old queen leaves the hive with the swarm of worker bees in search of a new location to call home. The new queen hatches, mates with the drones, and begins laying eggs in the hive.

One thing I want to point out is that if you come across a swarm of bees on a tree or other structure there is no need to panic. It is not necessary to have someone remove them, as these bees are in transition and will be gone soon. There is no danger if you simply avoid the area. That’s not to say that if you know a beekeeper you shouldn’t call them to see if they want to come get it, as they might appreciate the opportunity to start a new hive.

As the bees settled in my husband began preparing to capture them. Just like with hiving bees it is important to make sure that everything is in place before getting started. He already had a empty hive ready in anticipation of capturing a swarm. He opened it up and removed some frames from an area where he would dump the bees. He left the covers sitting nearby.

He got out a five gallon bucket with a lid and examined the tree. I reminded him this tree has thorns. He decided he would need to cut a lower branch off so he could get to the swarm. He put on his bee suit, but since he wouldn’t need my help I didn’t suit up. I would just watch and take photos.


The battery of my camera went dead after this photo.

After he removed the branch he was able to put the bucket directly under the branch that held the swarm. He then shook the branch very hard and a large portion of the swarm dropped into the bucket. His objective at this point was to get the queen. He quickly covered the bucket and took it to the hive that he had ready.  He emptied the bucket into the hive and I imagine he said a silent prayer that the queen was amongst them. He placed the cover over the hive and went back for more of the bees who were gathering back on the limb. He again shook the branch so that another large amount of bees fell into the bucket, and he took them to the hive as well. After repeating this a third time he had captured most of the bees. When he placed the cover on the hive many of the bees which were flying around the outside began clustering on the hive. This was a good sign that the queen was inside.

It is now three days later and this hive seems to be functioning as well as the others. Worker bees are leaving the hive and coming back with bright yellow pollen. That is just what we like to see. 🙂

Home Sweet Home (Hiving Honey Bees)

We are convinced that bee keeping is part art, part science and part luck. We have read many books and websites and there are so many ways of doing things and reasons behind doing things that it is really up to each bee keeper to decide what works best for them.  Experienced bee keepers may read this and identify 5 or 10 things that they think we did “wrong”. New bee keepers should not use this as their “bee hiving bible”, but study different methods and decide for themselves what will work best. With that being said this is our story of hiving our bees this year.


Saturday morning we had perfect weather for putting our new bees in their hives. The sun was shinning, the temperature was in the low 60’s and the wind was clam. It was in February, after we realized the loss of two out of our four hives, that we decided to order two packages of bees.  Since we had such a tragic experience last year when our bees were delivered by U.S. Mail we knew we would never do that again. Fortunately last August at the Saint Clair County Farm Museum’s Harvest Days we met Scott and Jen from Osage Farms . They are building an impressive business which includes managing their own bees and bee products along with selling beekeeping products and packaged bees. They don’t raise and package the bees. Their supplier is out of Georgia and Scott personally makes the trip from Michigan to bring back a truckload of bees. We decided to order our bees from them.

We knew the bees would be arriving sometime on Saturday and when we got the news from Jen on Saturday morning that we could pick them up anytime after 9:00 a.m. we headed out the door. Their location in Avoca, Michigan is less than a 20 mile drive and we were back home and getting our bee suits and bee kit ready before 10:00 a.m.

Our bee kit contains the tools that we use when working in the bee hives – hive tools, bee brushes, a couple of small nails that are used for poking a hole in the queen candy to help the workers release the queen from her cage. It also has things like a mirror, flashlight and guitar strings that are handy at times but were not used for hiving the bees. I also made up a spray bottle of light sugar syrup.

When we got to the farm my husband organized all of the hive pieces that we were going to need. He had already in place a bottom board, a deep hive body with 10 frames, a medium hive body with two frames removed from the center, and a medium hive body with all frames removed, for each of the two new hives. Next to each new hive he had set out an inner cover and an outer cover.


Having everything organized is extremely important when hiving bees because you don’t want to be searching for missing pieces once you get that package of bees open.

Once we had everything in place we put on our bee suits. We don’t have full suits, just the hooded jackets and gloves. We wear blue jeans and pull our sock up over our pant legs so bees do not have an entryway.

Wearing a bee suit can be an encumbrance, the added layer of clothing can be hot and bulky, the screen can make it difficult to see clearly, and the gloves can interfere with manual dexterity.

My husband tends to only wear his suit when it is really necessary and he decided early in the hiving process that it was not necessary. Honey bees are generally not aggressive and only use their stinger as a defense mechanism. At this point they had no food to defend, so unless he accidently put his had on one it is not likely he would get stung. He stopped me before I opened the package and said “This is just in the way,” while taking off his hooded jacket. The picture of him below is much later in the process since I could stop to take his picture while we were busy with the bees and there is no way I would have been able to press that little camera button with those bulky gloves on.


Usually my husband opens the package, dumps the bees, and deals with the queen cage while I stand by to quickly put on covers or hand him things he might need. This year he  walked me through the process as I did more of the work.

Before we began opening the packages I sprayed them with the sugar water. I used a mixture of 1 part sugar to two parts water. Spraying the bees is said to calm them. I’m not sure if it does.

I started by using the hive tool to pry off the wooden cover that was stapled to the top of the package. When that was removed it exposed the top of the feeder can. I then used the tool to pry up the edge of the feeder can and loosen the plastic tag that held the queen cage in place. Once the feeder can was removed my husband took the queen cage out of the package and I quickly placed the wooden cover back over the hole in the package to keep the bees inside. We inspected the queen cage to make sure the queen was alive. Each queen cage had a queen and three or four attendants with her. It had queen candy on one end and a small cork to plug the hole that would expose the queen candy. My husband removed the cork then took a small nail to gently puncture a starter hole in the queen candy. He then used a slightly larger nail to make the hole bigger all the time being careful not to hit the bees with the nail. This will make it easier for the workers to release the queen from her cage.

My husband then set the queen cage in the hive, in the space where the two frames had been left out of the medium hive body. It was sitting on top of the frames in the bottom hive body.


Once we had the queen cage in place it was time to shake the rest of the bees into the hive. I let him do the first one but I decided I would do the second one. Even though I have watched my husband do this quite a few times, I didn’t realize how tough you have to be with them. After giving the package several good shakes into the hive with a cluster of bees dropping into the hive each time, and shaking them first to one end then to the other then out the center, and hitting the ends of the package to get them clustered and out, there were still a lot of bees clinging to the screened side of the packages. My husband then took the package from me and gave it a couple good slams on the wooded work table, then shook most of the rest of the bees into the hive.

All this time there were thousands of bees flying around us but I honestly didn’t pay them much attention. My focus was on the task at hand and  thinking about what we needed to do next.

After most of the bees were out of the package he put the package on the ground near the hive entrance so the rest of the bees could find their new home when they exited the package. We brushed a few bees off the lip of the hive box as we slid the inner cover in place, then we put on the outer cover.

As far as feeding these new bees we decided not to use a feeder on the hive. We stopped feeding our bees sugar water several years ago and began making sure they have enough honey to keep them going. We are able to use honey that was in the hives we lost over the winter. Rather than putting it inside the hives my husband has it set up on the bench directly outside the hives. (see photo with my husband in it above).

By afternoon the bee activity had settled down quite a bit and there were bees coming and go from  both of the new hives.

It was a good day. 🙂