Category Archives: Bees

Bee Day

Today is bee day at our farm. It is the day that the honey bees that we ordered have arrived and we must set them up in their new homes (hives). This year, as in the past two, we ordered our bees from Osage Bees in Avoca, MI. Osage Bees do not raise the bees here in Michigan. Instead they take orders from local customers then travel to Georgia where they pick up the bees and bring them back to Michigan. We find this to be a great option for acquiring bees, especially after our tragic mail order experience a few years back.

Our order was for five 3 pound packages of bees.

This is what three pound packages of bees looks like. There is an estimates 9000 – 12,000 bees in a three pound package.

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The bees are huddled together in a ball surrounding the queen cage to keep her warm and protected.

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There are a few dead bees in the bottom of each package but that is to be expected.

My husband did all the hiving today, but I wanted to be there to take some photos to share with my readers. You won’t see me in the photos, but in case you are wondering I was wearing a bee suit similar to the one my husband has on.

Before I get into todays activities I should mention that a lot of the prep work has been done over the last few weeks. That involved making sure that we had five hives ready (clean, assembled and set in place).

This morning when he went to pick up the bees I made syrup that we would use to feed the bees for the first week or so. We generally don’t like to feed sugar syrup because it does not have the nutrients that the bees would get from nectar or from honey.  We try to keep enough extra honey on hand to be able to feed the bees if necessary, but this year we did not have enough honey to make that happen.

I will also say that there are many methods for hiving bees and for bee keeping. What is right or wrong is largely a matter of opinion, and what works for one bee keeper may not work for another. If you have seen things done a different way or do things differently feel free to ask why we did what we did.

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Before opening the package of bees my husband opened up the hive that he would be putting the bees in. He also removed the center two frames to make room for the bees.

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He next removed the small piece of wood that sealed the top of the package shut. Removing the piece of wood gave him access to the feeder can. The feeder can has syrup in it and small holes that the bees can suck the syrup out of. There is enough syrup in the can to keep these bees alive for several days. This can was still pretty full.

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As he removed the can he remembered to slide the small piece of wood over the hole because he still wasn’t ready for the bees to come out of the package.

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The next step was removing the queen cage. The queen cage is a very small box with screened sides that contains the queen bee and a few attendant bees. The queen is kept separate during travel to protect her. The safety of the queen is of utmost importance because a hive can not function without a queen.

You don’t get to see the actual queen cage because many worker bees were clinging to the cage. Protecting their queen is a large part of their job. Because it was chilly outside my husband held the queen cage in the hive while shaking and brushing the excess bees off.

The next thing he did is not recommended practice, but because of his schedule for the next few weeks it was necessary. He placed the queen cage in the hive and removed the screen so that the queen could get out.

Normal procedure would have been to keep the cage intact and allow the worker bees to get her out by eating the sugar candy that is used to plug one end of the cage. This process usually takes a few days but it is important to check after a few days to make sure she is out. My husband is just not going to have the time to do that check.

 

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After the queen was in the hive my husband emptied the rest of the bees into the hive. In past years when we have done this we have found that when the package is open many bees are eager to get out and bees begin flying out and around the area. Our experience today was different. Presumably because of the cool, cloudy weather the majority of the bees stayed in a ball – huddled tightly together.

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Shaking the package

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and smacking it on the bottom is what needs to be done in order to get the bees out of the package.

There are usually a few bees left in the package so he sets the package on the ground next to the hive so they will find their way in.

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Since we don’t like to open our hives often and disturb the bees he adds a queen excluder and a honey super (the third box). He then put the feeder on top and puts sugar syrup in it, before placing the top on the hive.

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This one is finding it’s new home.

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As I was taking pictures I felt something tickling my hand. I looked down and found this girl checking me out.

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She  seemed to be tasting my skin but certainly had no ill intentions. One of the precautions we take when working with the bees is to not wear anything scented (perfumes, deodorant, hair care products) as the bees might be attracted to it.

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So maybe I am just that sweet. LOL!!!

I only stayed around for the first hive but my husband repeated this with each of the other four hives.

He then reported to me late this afternoon that all of the hives were active and after the sun came out there were busy bees all over the dandelions.

This was a good day!

 

Life Is Happening Faster Than I Can Write

There are so many things going on that I have wanted to write about but it seems there has little time left for writing. Thankfully I have been taking some pictures along the way to remind me of what I want to write. I have decided to combine many things into this post.

BREAD BAKING

I will start with an update on my sourdough bread making. IMG_4878

This loaf was made the same as my previous breads but I reduced the oven temperature to 425 degrees F and baked it covered for 35 minutes. I then removed the cover and baked it for about 25 minutes more. I am very pleased with the results. 🙂

SPRING AT THE FARM

It seems like a slow transition into spring but it may be better that way. When warm weather comes on quickly and all the plants begin to flower there is an increased risk of losing them to a spring freeze or heavy frost.  Here are some of my observations of our world awakening from it’s winter nap.

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The hickory buds are swelling.

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The maple trees are flowering. They provide pollen for the bees.

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The lilac buds are getting ready to open.

 

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The garlic is about three inches high.

 

 

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This time of year the back corner of our farm is a swamp. It becomes the noisiest spot as the chorus of frogs announce the arrival of spring. I love to hear the frogs sing 🙂

PLANTING

While it is way too soon to do any outdoor planting. We have a lot of stuff growing indoors.

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My husband started two varieties of tomatoes, five varieties of peppers, cabbage, basil and parsley.

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Several years ago we constructed this grow shelf by attaching florescent lights to the underside of  each shelf . As the seedlings begin to sprout we place blocks or boxes underneath their trays to get them closer to the light. We then gradually lower them as the plants grow taller.

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Having them closer to the light helps them grow stronger stems. We also have plants growing near many of the windows in our home.

While I normally don’t plant many annual flowers this year will be different.

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My husband took a job at a greenhouse for the season. They are a wholesale supplier of annual flowers. For various reasons not all of the plugs make the cut, so my husband has rescued many that would have otherwise been discarded.

We shared some with neighbors and family members and even donated several flats to our friends at Special Dreams Farm. Once the weather warms I will be planting Marigolds, Geraniums, and Phlox in our flower beds.

BEES

This year our son-in-law, Ken, decided to become a bee keeper. Since he does not have property of his own to set up a hive we welcomed him and his bees to our farm. Ken said he has been reading about and studying bee keeping for a couple of years now. After doing so he decided to design and build his own hive and feeders. I can’t describe all of the bee-friendly features that this hive has, but if it works out well perhaps Ken will do a guest post to share his hive design.

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He decided to keep Buckfast bees, a breed that we are not experienced with. His bees arrived on Saturday, April 6 and we were blessed with perfect weather for hiving bees. Since the Buckfast bees are known to be a gentle/non aggressive breed Ken was comfortable not wearing a full bee suit. (He only got stung once.)

My husband was there and walked Ken through the process of hiving the bees. When I spoke to Ken later he said that he was thankful for the help and probably the best thing my husband told him was to take his time. I understand this because standing amidst  10’s of thousands of bees can be unnerving.  It is important to stay focused and not to rush to get things done. That is how mistakes happen.

Our hive is doing well as evidenced by the number of bees coming and going on warm days. Since there is not much in blossom for the bees to forage my husband set up an outside feeder for them.IMG_4857

He poked small holes around the bottom of the ice cream bucket. He then put honey in the bucket. The honey is thick enough that it does not run out of the holes but the bees can suck it out.

We have ordered five packages of bees. They are scheduled to arrive on May 10th so I expect I will write a post about setting up five new hives.

CHICKENS 

I saved the best story for last.

Our first batch of chicks, the ones I said won’t be with us long, have moved to the farm. We had decided that once they were out of the brooder we would get a second batch. Rather than the Cornish cross chickens that we got the first time around and are normally raised for meat birds we decided we wanted a breed that would forage for it’s own food.  Jersey Giants was the breed we selected. I had spotted some recently at our local farm store. As their name suggests Jersey Giants are said to be the largest true breed of chicken. They are know as dual purpose birds being raised for either egg laying or as meat birds.

Our plan was to go last weekend to get some but that just didn’t happen, so when Monday came around I offered to go get them, “or we can go when I get home form work” my husband suggested. We eventually decided he would stop on his way home from work to get them. “How many should we get?” he asked. “Eight?” I said. “Eight sounds right,” he agreed.

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When he got to the farm store and found the brooder containing Jersey Giants he discovered there were only eight left. Perfect timing!

While he waited for the customer service person to assist him, he noticed a women holding a very small chick. “The others were picking on it,” she told my husband as she showed him the sore area on it’s foot where they had been pecking at it. “My husband won’t let me rescue it,” she said.

“My wife will,” he replied as he took the tiny bantam chick from her. “Let me take this one home,” he said to the store employee. She agreed.

We have never raised bantam chickens before so I had to do a little research to find out what we had. I learned that bantam chickens are small breeds. There are several breeds that are “true” bantams but each regular breed of chicken also has a bantam variety. Other than a small incredibly cute chick I still have no idea what we have. In fact these chicks are not sexed before sale so we may even have a rooster.

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It seems a dichotomy that this tiny little chick that was being abused by it’s peers has been accepted by this group that is 3 or 4 times it’s size.

“You get to name it,” my husband said to me.

“That is tough,” I replied “when I don’t know if it is a male or female.”

“Pick a name that could be either or,” he said.

After a few minutes of thought it came to me…

 

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Let me introduce you to Big Bird! LOL.

 

Do you also feel like time is flying by?

Are you experiencing nice spring weather and the beauty that comes with it?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

 

Welcome Spring

This post is dedicated to my friend and fellow blogger Linda who blogs at Walkin’, Writin’ Wit and Whimsy. Linda, who takes readers along as she walks at various parks in South East Michigan and introduces us to the furry and feathered friends she meets along the way, has been as eager as I have for the arrival of spring. On occasion her posts reference classic songs – oldies but goodies –  leaving me with an ear worm for the day. As we welcome spring, Linda, I thought I’d return the favor.

So let me tell ya ’bout the –

BIRDS

Sunday morning as I walked out the door on my way to open up the chicken coop for the day I was greeted by the song of a robin. It is a sound I have become quite familiar with over the past few years as each spring a robin nests in the maple tree outside our bedroom window. He or she starts singing each morning long before the sun comes up, (sometimes as early as 3:30 a.m.) and long before my husband and I are ready to awaken. If the early bird catches the worm then this is one well fed robin.

In Michigan it is said that robins are a sure sign of spring but the truth is that some robins stay in Michigan throughout the winter. Robins that migrate south for the winter are doing so because of the limited food supply available this time of year, not because of the cold temperatures. During the winter those that stay will eat fruit and berries that are left on the trees/bushes.

As I arrived at the farm to open the chicken coop two robins flew swiftly past me. 🙂

Red winged black birds are also said to be a sign of spring.

 

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I spotted this one as Trooper and I walked the back field yesterday.

Our hens have been enjoying the weather and egg laying has increased – we are now averaging about 12 eggs a day from our 23 hens.

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Spring is also the time of year when baby chicks show up in the farm stores. Each year that I have been blogging I have shown pictures of adorable little chicks that will be raised on our farm. Thus far we have only raised egg layer but this year is a little different. These will not be laying hens.

IMG_4799It’s ok to say “awe, they’re cute” – just don’t get attached because they won’t be with us long. (That note is as much for me as it is for you).

and the BEES
Several days last week temperatures warmed enough for the bees to come out for a cleansing flight. We had just one hive going into winter and were relieved to see that they are still alive. It is not warm enough to open the hive yet and since nothing is in bloom they are still dependent on their winter food stores.

and the FLOWERS

Even more promising than seeing robins were the daffodils that have begun to emerge from their winter sleep.

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Soon we will be seeing their smiling yellow blossoms at various places throughout the farm. 🙂

and the TREES:

We decided not to make maple syrup this year but if  you are interested in how we do that you can check out my posts from previous syrup seasons 2018, 2017 , 2016 and 2016. Based on temperatures that we have had last week and this week I suspect that had we tapped our trees this year we would be cooking syrup this week.

In the past few years it has been my observation that the first trees to bud in our area are the poplar trees. Their flowers, that actually look more like caterpillars, provide resin that is collected by honey bees and used to make propolis.

The maples seem to bud out next and while this triggers the end of the syrup season it is good for the bees as the flowers of the maple trees seem to be their first source of food in the spring.

and the Moon Up Above

Last night my husband mentioned that the moon was close to being full. This morning, before daybreak, the sky was clear and the moon was bright. This year spring is being ushered in by the full moon.

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and a Little Thing Called Mud

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As the snow melts and the ground thaws there is no avoiding it. When you live in the country mud is more than a “little thing”. Water + dirt = MUD. Lots of mud. You learn to deal with it. For us that means wearing a pair of rubber boots and rinsing off our boots and the boys paws with a garden hose before we go into the house.

Over the past 8 years we have learned that starting the year with this kind of moisture in the ground is more of a benefit than a nuisance. By mid June we often find ourselves in a dry spell and are using the pond water to keep our gardens alive.

 

If there is one this that is certain about spring in Michigan it is that the weather is extremely uncertain. Currently our day time temperatures are getting above freezing while the nights drop back below freezing. Today as I look at the 10 day forecast it shows that trend will continue for about the next week. Tomorrow when I look at the forecast that might change. It’s not surprising to have snow storms and freezing temperatures well into April and even May. On the other hand summer weather might show up at anytime and be here to stay. For better or worse the calendar says spring is here.

WELCOME SPRING! (Happy Dance 🙂 )

What is your favorite season?

 

 

 

 

My Thoughts About Bee Keeping and Honey

We started our bee keeping ventures in 2013 and to date it has been the most frustrating farming activity we do. Hive losses are heartbreaking and we have had many. Probably our worst experience was when the bees we ordered did not even make it to our farm alive. You can read about that here. If you read that article you may understand when I say that bee keeping is also one of the most thrilling and rewarding activities that we do. Capturing swarms, observing the bees while they forage and pollenate our crops, harvesting honey and wax all make this so.

As with everything we do our bee keeping efforts are done on a small scale. We often use the word boutique to describe our farm. Since we started bee keeping we have maintained at least one hive and at times had as many as seven hives. Each year we have harvested honey and for the last 4 or so years we have harvested and processed our own wax as well. If you are interested in learning how I filter bees wax you can  read about that here.

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Beekeeping has given me a whole new understanding and appreciation of honey. Most of my life I have used store bought honey and never thought much about it. The color and flavor were pretty consistent. Honey was just honey. It wasn’t until we started harvesting our own honey that I realized that honey is not just honey. In fact we have yet to have any two honey harvests where the honey tasted the same.

When people find out that we are beekeepers they often have many questions. Below are some of the points I make when talking about bees and honey.

  • Each honey harvest is (should be) a wonderfully, unique blend of nectars and pollen from various plants that have been in season.
  • The color and flavor of honey should vary between harvests.
  • Mono cropping, the practice of moving bee hives to a particular location where a specific crop is in blossom in order for the bees to pollinate that crop, may be detrimental to bee health. (how well would you fare if you only ate one food for the majority of your life?)
  • Feeding bees sugar syrup is probably not good for the bees.
  • Local honey may or may not be effective as a treatment for allergies depending on what the bees were foraging to make their honey.
  • In the U.S. honey suppliers are required to put their address on the honey label. Buying honey that has a local address does not necessarily mean you are buying honey that was produced locally.
  • Raw honey is honey that has not been heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Honey can be stored at room temperature and has an indefinite shelf life.
  • Honey might crystalize but it is still good.
  • Honey that has crystalized can be turned into liquid again by slowly heating the jar in a pan of water. Do not microwave!
  • Because the honey may crystalize and you may want to heat it to make it liquid again do not buy honey in plastic bottles.

Do you have any questions or thoughts about honey bees or honey? Leave me a comment and I will be sure to get back to you.

Thanks for reading and have a great day! 🙂

 

 

 

As Summer Comes To A Close

We are (too) quickly approaching the Fall equinox and it seems that Summer and Fall have been duking it out. Some days we have had cooler fall-like temperatures but on other days have been hot, reminding us that it is still summer.

I thought I would share some of my observations from my morning walks at the farm on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tuesday morning was warm and humid. As I arrived at the farm a bunny, who was sitting in the driveway, scampered away. When I exited my van two deer, who were near the pond, made a quick exit into the woods as well. As the sun rose, burning off bits of fog, the dew was still heavy and glistened on blades of grass and clover leaves. My rubber boots were soaked but my feet were dry as I walked the path around the back field.

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While most of the sunflowers have gone to seed, we still have one patch that are smiling brightly with their faces turned toward the rising sun.

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We had planted sunflower patches several times throughout the spring and summer and this last patch is now being enjoyed by our bees and many other pollinators.

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Apple picking is not far off. We have tasted a few apples but have decided they needed a bit more time to ripen.

 

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I saw and heard many birds this morning, but this one seemed to be posing for me.

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The wild flowers in the field are in transition. Thistle and Queen Anne’s Lace have all gone to seed and Golden Rod is fading, but Asters are now blossoming. The bees will forage the Asters into the fall while they continue to build their stores for winter.

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The Maple trees are beginning to change color, ushering in the new season, yet the Hibiscus continue to bloom, holding tight to these last days of summer.

Wednesday morning was cooler. The sun was shielded by a thick blanket of clouds. I did not spot any rabbits or deer which is somewhat unusual. Although I wore my rubber boots, the ground was not wet and my farm shoes probably would have kept my just feet dry.

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The sunflowers seemed to be searching for the sun, their heads turned in various directions.

The air was still as I walked the path around the back field, but I was amused seeing the  weeds wiggled as grass hoppers jumped on them or hit them on their way by.

I didn’t hear the song birds like the previous morning instead I heard crows and then turkeys. I heard the turkeys several times as I walked the path across the field but I did not spot them until I reached the wood line.

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There was a flock of them in the neighbors yard – I would have liked to get a better shot but they seemed disturbed and had I gone any closer they would have scattered.

It seems that Summer has passed way to fast this year, and as she travels south for the winter I bid her farewell.

We’ll welcome fall with hopes of many pleasant days, as there is still much work to do before winter arrives.

How about you? Has summer seemed short to you? Are you looking forward to the change of seasons? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Thanks for visiting. 🙂