Category Archives: Bees and beekeeping

What are you looking at?

 

The bees in both hives in the rear were bearding when I went out to change the feeders – the bee kind, not the closeted dude kind. The feeders are full of simple syrup, to answer a question I received: equal parts water and sugar, heated until the sugar dissolves and there are no crystals left, then cooled and jarred. The bees need to be fed right now because we’re in a dearth period (nothing in particular is blooming for them to gather the amount of nectar they need) and because they’re new (so no stores for them to live on until the next bloom). We will undoubtedly not have any honey to harvest this year and likely not in the spring, either. Our target is next fall, assuming all goes well.

Insanity: Holding Pattern

Another day without a workout. One good thing: a visit with the ENT today, who gave an all clear: everything looks good, feels good (no lumps or anything in my tongue, mouth, or neck that he could feel). I have two CT scans on the 2nd, and I’m hopeful those will come back clear as well. We’re still on a 6-month rotation for visits to the various doctors and for scans, and maybe next year we can get back to yearly.

Today, though, more pain from the dental work and a couple of teeth that will be the next two to be pulled. The jarring from the jumping is a killer. So, new plan: restart on Sunday to give it a couple more days to calm down.

In the meantime, we’re still watching the floodwaters recede, slowly but surely, from the two feet or so that dropped in when Debby did Jacksonville. The bees survived high and dry, thanks to good placement of the hive. The chickens…well, chickens are not that bright, so they looked like drowned rats for a few days since they were not always smart enough to get in the coop and out of the rain.

The garden: the garlic has had it. After the fast, high heat, then a lot of rain at the beginning of the month, and now this rain, a lot of it is rotted. There may be some that can be salvaged, but for the most part, I’m counting it as a loss. Next season, I won’t be planting nearly as much, and only ordered a total of 20 pounds from Big John’s. This will give us a lot more room for tomatoes, once the frames are reworked. The remaining tomatoes out front are likely dead now, and the cukes were pulled two weeks ago after the first rounds of rain killed them off.

Looking forward to a reboot of the garden!

Thousands of girls

This is not a post about the drunken activities of spring breakers. Sorry. Rather, it is about the newest residents on the ranch.

 

She’s one of thousands in the three packages of bees we received on Thursday. I arrived home from my latest round of hyperbaric treatments (two more teeth yanked out of my head!) and the bees had already arrived, via a UPS driver who is allergic to bees. Apparently, as my family told me when I got home, he didn’t stick around longer than necessary to drop off the package and speed away.

People seem to think that honeybees are the same as wasps and yellowjackets and such, and generally are prone to freak out about tens of thousands of bees (in cages, mind you), but they are much more docile than their flying cousins. Since they can only sting once, and die immediately after doing so, it is in their best interests to reserve their rage for when it is well-founded, rather than stinging without regard. Or stinging multiple times, like the others can (and often) do. This is not to say that honeybees are thoughtful in the sense that we are, of course, or that they are particularly philosophical about their lot in life. They’re insects, after all. But they do have instincts, just like everything else on the planet.

My sister, nephew, and I had set up the hives on blocks, ready to be filled with bees. From there, it was a simple matter of shaking the bees out into their respective new homes. With some help, of course.

Installing the bees with Mason (06:39)

All in all, a very successful day with the bees. I went back afterward to put the feeders in place with some simple syrup for them to work with until they got their bearings and found real food. When they stop taking the syrup, I’ll remove the feeders.

 

Catching up

So I let the daily blogging thing go by the wayside. Winters – or, more accurately, waiting for spring to really get rolling – are a bit boring on the ranch. I probably should have been painting more, or working more on the neverending to-do list, but the fatigue factor really got to me. Now that I’m on some supplements to get my B levels back up, I feel a whole lot better, and more like my old self. Still not taking iron supps, though, and I’m definitely not eating any liver, so that’s still a work in progress.

But progress there is: all of the first round of flats, except two, have been transplanted: tomatoes and peppers, mostly. The other two flats have onions (plus one  lonely little datil pepper that isn’t going to make it, like the other dozen that never bothered to germinate) and herbs (plus artichokes to replace the ones zapped by the severe freeze we had). I’ve also sown shelling peas, snap (green) beans, peanuts, three kinds of cucumbers, okra, carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes, along with various herbs and flowers for the bees. Out back in the chicken yard, where we had composted some things over the past year and where the chickens had scratched around, I put in lima beans (ugh), sunflowers, and corn. Yes, corn. It is my personal windmill here on the ranch, and I have another variety I’d like to put in somewhere, too.

Yesterday we got over an inch and a half of rain, as measured by our very own weather station. Before the rains started, I had transplanted out a flat, and gave it up when the big thunder started rolling across the sky. It was only around 10 AM that it started storming, but it lasted almost all day. Much needed rain, although we’re still very short of normal.

Today, more sweet potatoes put in, the other flats put out, as much newspaper and hay put down as my back could stand, and two more flats started and put under the lights in the barn: paisano tomatoes for sauce, sweet basil, purple basil, and two types of tobacco for mom. Got another canvas started, added to one of the earlier ones that is now dry, dealt with an asshole who thinks we should have known to remove his account when he never bothered to let us know, bitching about the invoice the system generated – hey, my superpower of ESP still has not kicked in from the radiation, and no others have appeared either. That’s a bummer.

Several trees my mom swore were dead were just a little dead, and are now upgraded to alive, leafing and budding out. The peas, cukes, and okra have all started to poke their heads up. The snap beans are probably a week or so away from beginning to flower. We’ve had asparagus spears popping up for the past couple of weeks. It’s time to start prepping the spots the beehives will be in: two in the rear, one up front.

Tonight: seafood feast by request, as my sister is visiting from Illinois. Another attempt to view Jupiter and its moons before it slips away beyond our viewing period as the days get longer. Starting another canvas while the others dry a bit. Starting the reworking of our tutorials for our users, since our control panel has changed since the first round. Doing end of quarter stuff for the business. Relaxing. Maybe.

Lining up the help

Since I’m partially incapacitated, thanks to whatever the hell I did to my back, I had to turn on the bat signal to get some labor for the ranch. My sister is coming over Friday to haul dirt around to the places I need it to fill in the frames I reconfigured so I can then curse my way through getting the driplines rerun for watering. My brother is coming up for the weekend, so he gets the job of reworking the stone ring around the pine tree in the driveway, which then will need to be filled with soil, which then will need to be seeded with some drought-tolerant flowers.

Speaking of flowers, I’ve decided we’ll have two hives out in the orchard, and one up at the front of the property where we have more fruit trees and of course the front garden. I’m hoping for some good pollination on both gardens, but really need to get out and put down flower seed in various places so it will be up and going by the time the bees arrive in mid-May.

Speaking of bees, I read a lot of news about bees, and there are always a couple of stories (at least) per week about a city/township working up ordinances about keeping bees. What’s amusing – and sad – about this from time to time are the people opposed to any beekeeping in their neighborhoods, citing the possibility of someone who is allergic to bees getting stung. It really makes me wonder just how much these people have thought things through (answer: not much). Hived bees are concerned about gathering what they need to live and protecting their hive. As long as you’re not pounding on the hive with a hammer, they’re very unlikely to do anything to you, preferring to be industrious and go about their business, which does not involve us all that much. I know this probably deals a blow to the human ego, but it’s quite true. Second, how exactly would you know you were stung by a bee from a particular hive and not a feral bee who may be protecting a home you’ve just stumbled into? Time after time in these articles, the point is made that in places where beekeeping is not expressly forbidden (and thus people are already doing it) there are really no complaints related to the safety of having the bees. Complaints raised by jackhole neighbors, however, who simply latch on to this as something to complain about, are a different story, and one article had an officer say the complaint they received was a “neighbor issue” not a “bee issue”.

Fortunately for us, these issues won’t be issues here. There are ordinances in place here, and based on those, we could theoretically have a ton of hives on the property. We also are unlikely to have any “neighbor issues” since the hives will be well away from the property lines, the neighbors to our immediate east are never home, and the rednecks have already been told we’re getting them – and of course, there are those sections of 6′ fence now between us and them, with more to come.

Can’t wait. Can’t wait. We’ll be filming the hiving of the bees when they get here, of course, if I can convince someone to put on a bee suit and do it.

It was a dark and stormy night

And a grey, chilly, rainy day. A break in our streak of springlike weather around here, but this too shall pass. In a few days we’ll have 80 degree temps with showers here and there – perfect time to go start seeding the areas I’ve set aside as forage areas for the bees. By the time they arrive and are ready to get to work, those areas should be in full bloom. I also need to continue my quest to get all the frames ready to go, so we (I) can start planting in a couple of weeks. I may need some farm labor help for that, since my back is still(!) twinging me. Guess it really was pretty bad, whatever I did, although all I was doing at the time was shoveling, something I’ve done a ton of around here. Funny the way things work.

Taking the sting out

Reading around on some bee news today, since I’m in enforced idleness, courtesy of a horrendous back strain (from yesterday’s adventures in hauling dirt). I ran across this story about stingless bees. Very interesting stuff, and would be something to look into if we actually lived in an area where their foraging would enable them to subsist. To be honest, I’m not overly concerned about being stung by the bees we’ll be getting here at the ranch. Occupational hazard, in the same way that slicing open a finger or knuckle on a heatsink or edge of a server chassis is in my business. I’d like those stings to be as few in number as possible, of course – who wouldn’t? – but I have to say I’m just as excited now about getting bees here as I was when we first started discussing it.

Review: Colony

I’ve watched Colony several times now. The synopsis as given by the filmmakers says “Colony documents a time of unprecedented crisis in the world of the honeybee through the eyes of both veteran beekeeper, David Mendes, and Lance and Victor Seppi, two young brothers getting into beekeeping when most are getting out. As Mendes tries to save the nation’s collapsing hives, the Seppi’s try to keep their business alive amidst a collapsing economy.”

This may be the documentary they wanted to make, but it doesn’t  actually seem to be the one they did make.

Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is touched on in the film, but as one person (Randy Oliver) puts it, sometimes things like this are cyclical and happen for no particular reason other than it just does. Maybe it is systemic pesticides, maybe it is disease, maybe it is the stress that bees face due to the migratory nature of commercial pollination, maybe it is some combination of these and other factors, or maybe it’s something else altogether, but the film itself takes no particular stance on it, nor does it offer any steps that any individual could take to help. Dave Mendes is featured, talking to groups about pesticides, trying to get people together to do something (in the film, what this may be isn’t entirely clear). Outside of the film, anyone interested in bees at all knows that Mendes is all over the place talking about the need for research and so forth, but this isn’t really touched on in the film. There are some shots of a congressional hearing talking about money for research, but nothing more than one might get in a summary story from CNN or the like.

The rest of the film focuses on the Seppis, a religious family running a commercial operation in California. Most of that focus is not on the effects on CCD on their operation – although there are some points where they do talk about dead hives – but on their negotiating attempts with almond farmers to get a certain price point per hive for almond season. While this holds some interest for people really interested in beekeeping, I imagine this would be fairly boring overall. Quick summary: almond farmers pay migratory beekeepers a price per hive to have bees to pollinate the short flowering season in the fields. With hundreds of thousands of acres of almonds in California, as you might guess this involves a lot of money in the end: with an estimated 1.4 million hives required to pollinate, do the math at even a hundred dollars per hive.

And this business side, I think, is where people like me begin to really think about what’s going on in this film. Before I get into that, though, I have to point out one of the most irritating moments about this film, which involves one of the Seppi sisters talking about the hive. While holding a frame covered with bees, she points out the queen, and says, “They’re somewhat of a matriarchal system.” No, they are a matriarchal system. That’s what it means when the female of the species is in charge, making the decisions, and doing the work. She mentions the queen lays all the eggs and the workers do the nursing, cleaning, and foraging, and says, “But they wouldn’t be there without the male.” After pausing, she gives a little smirk to the camera, and spouts this gem: “You have to remind feminists that.”

OK, which feminists would that be? The ones who never got out of sixth grade biology and know nothing about reproduction? Or the ones uninterested in the submissive woman line touted by certain religious sects – the women (and men!) who happen to be the ones who fight for equal rights for women, and in the past managed to get women not to be counted as chattel, to be able to go to school and receive an education, to be able to work in the same fields as men, and got the right to vote? Those feminists? None of those I know think men are unnecessary or think that complete separatist living is the way to go – those types, like the people who seem to think feminism is a dirty word or that women should just give up their own dreams to accede to what someone else thinks they should do are, fortunately, fringe and rare.

On to the business side. The son who appears to be the primary force of the beekeeping business, says they had 1200 hives (and they want to “bless” farmers with their bees). During the film, the discussions with farmers talk about pricing between $140 and $170 per hive for pollination. For convenience, let’s just say a thousand hives. That’s a lot of money either way. At one point, though, the mother says that the parents are pumping in $20,000 above what the business makes to keep it afloat. Ignoring all the other income (the dad works as a teacher, apparently, and the family may have almonds of their own), as a businessperson myself I have a hard time understanding why it isn’t possible for them to run this business and live on $150,000 a year, even after expenses knock out part of that gross income, especially when they’ve had a few years of managing the business under their belts. Now, I don’t know anything about their accounting or their books or their expenses, but if you’re in the hole that much each year, perhaps you need to take some business classes or exit the field, because something is not right.

In the end, this was a rather unsatisfying documentary, and likely to be not something terribly interesting except to those of us who keep bees (or will be keeping bees).