Category Archives: Honey

Hello, sports fans

It’s been awhile, yes. A big thank you to Damian, who noticed I had a script kiddie “hack” the site – not a hack per se, just a defacement, like a tagger on a building wall more than anything else, but annoying. If you’re running WordPress, you need to update to 4.7.2. This is pretty much their equivalent of a hair on fire announcement.

“WordPress 4.7.2 is now available. This is a security release for all previous versions and we strongly encourage you to update your sites immediately.”

So, thanks to Damian, I cleared out that defaced post and got this here blawg, plus the others I maintain, updated.

Speaking of updates, what’s been happening at the ranch? A bunch of things, bleeding over from the suckage that was 2016. Last year was rather a horrible one from every single angle: professional, personal, ranch. I was sick off and on most of the year, and late in the year I found a big lump on the right side of my neck. Those of you who have followed me know that the cancer back in 2005 was on the left side of my neck. This thing ballooned up so big that it finally burst – or, as the doctors say, “spontaneously drained”. There’s a very hard lump in there, surrounded by infection. At this time, since I have kept draining it (which is disgusting) it is much more contained at the moment, but still painful.

After five months, we are now heading toward surgery to remove it. Tomorrow. We’re not entirely sure ow long that will take, since even with multiple types of scans,  they can’t quite tell how large it is or how deeply it goes. We’ll see tomorrow – well, they will, and they’ll let me know afterwards. They have a 23-hour “observation period” which means I will be stuck in hospital overnight, dangit. No day surgery for this one, because, as I mentioned, there’s no way to tell how deep it is or how much they will have to cut if the pathologist says there’s something there and the margins are not clean. That means I’ll be hauling my laptop up and leeching off the hospital’s wifi, which should be at least marginally better than the sucktastic ISP I have now.

So what happened in 2016?  Pneumonia a couple of times, for one. General grue some others, including when my sister came back to the US for a visit, bringing whatever German germs they have over there. The garden was a disaster, since one of the times I was quite ill was around Memorial Day, when things are starting to go full blast in the gardens. I was sick for a couple of weeks, managed to keep the bees fed, and that was about it: everything else spiraled out of control for the most part. We had no significant harvest as we’ve had in years past, and only a handful of tomatoes.

(Insert four days here, as I did not finish this post on the eve of surgery on my neck. Surgery: done. Recovery: continuing. No hospital stay: hooray!)

At the end of the year, I go this lump thing going, and in the bee yard, I lost 20 – yes, 20 – hives.  I think some of that was due to the incredible weird weather we had deep into the year. In October, we were still seeing temps in the 80s, the queens had not been shut down by their respective bees, so they wanted to swarm and had to be split. I suppose I could have just continued to pile brood boxes on them, but I don’t think it would have made a difference in how things turned out: there simply would not have been enough bees to cover all of the brood as the 80-degree days suddenly snapped to low 70s and the overnights to 40-ish, in exactly the same way a swarm or split would not have enough bees for the same thing.

Another problem: absconding. I hesitate to call it colony collapse disorder, although at least three I know fit the conditions: plenty of food and pollen, no masses of dead bees, and the queen left behind with a tiny group of young bees. As in plenty of cases I’ve read about, there didn’t seem to be any problems inside the hive at all. They were healthy, not overly burdened by mites, beetles, or other pests, and then one day they were just gone. One, in fact, disappeared in the course of a day: I’d checked the hive the day before, and the next day, poof! No bees.

It’s disheartening, to say the least, when you’ve busted your ass on 100+ degree days taking care of the hives only to find them gone. A few of the hives had dwindled to almost nothing and were holding their own, but eventually got robbed out by other, stronger, hives. That, too, is strange: the strong hives had plenty of stores, so didn’t need the piddly amounts that were in the weaker hives, and in one case, didn’t have anywhere to really store that excess anyway. It’s an odd life, taking care of bees.

One thing I tried in late 2016 was in-frame feeders. They take the place of one or two frames in a hive body, depending on what size body you’re running in the yard. These have a cap and ladder system that is supposed to allow the bees to go down and gather up the syrup the frames are filled with and crawl back up without drowning. I know a lot of people use them. They’ve had great success. The migratory keepers use them a lot. What I got? A bunch of drowned bees in some, and in other hives, a ton of drowned bees. I pulled every single one out of the hives. While they are convenient, holding a gallon (or two) of sugar syrup to reduce the number of times you have to make syrup and refill, the tradeoff in dead bees did not work for me. If I have to hump 50 jars out for feeding when it’s necessary, then that’s what I’ll do. Lesson learned, in that those types of feeders are not for my beeyard.

This year, I’ll be rebuilding the beeyard. I picked up four nucs from Jester’s down in Mims – almost two and a half hours from here, one way, and it was funny driving back two and half hours with the back of the car humming. All of those are doing great, as they should. Nucs, for those not in the know, are smaller versions of hives. They usually have five frames, with brood, honey, and pollen. The queen is in the box with her bees, and when you get them home, ideally you should swap them over into regular hive bodies. When I returned home that day, it was late and starting to spit rain, so they hung out in the nucs until the next day when I hived them. They didn’t seem particularly bothered by the delay, and I had to add second brood boxes already to all four of them. If you need bees, you’re a small keeper, and you live somewhere that isn’t too far away, give Jester’s a call – I’m pleased thus far with this group that I have, and I can’t wait to see how they perform once spring arrives.

I also ordered 15 packages from Rossman to rebuild the beeyard.  It’s a fairly big expense, but not an overwhelming one, and will get us back up to the numbers I want faster than dealing with splits would, especially since I don’t have a huge number of hives to work with relative to splits.

For the gardens: I have flats in the barn under the lights, and they are all up. In a couple of days, I’m hoping to have this neck thing not hurt so much so I can do the next round of flats. I also sowed carrot, radish, and beet a week or so before surgery, and was planning to do a successive round of those today, but that’s going to have to be pushed back as the flats have been. My goal this year is to have better succession planting and thus better management of what’s on hand and growing throughout the year. It would also help to not be seriously ill this year, and I’ve decided I’ll just have to start wearing a mask if I have to be out amongst large groups of people. In fact, my sister warned me yesterday that there is some kind of nasty flu-like thing making the rounds out in the world, and my brother in Orlando is ill, and says there’s something down there, too. So, masks it is. I’d rather look silly than be down for the count for three weeks and not be able to tend things normally.

For the log/online life: I got off facebook at some point in the middle of last year, and at the end of the year, I deactivated my account. That has freed up a lot of time, removed some stress and pressure, and in general has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I maintain my author page via an account I created just for that purpose: that account has no friends, follows no groups or people, and never will. It’s just there to give me entry to the page I set up, which is not updated on a regular basis right now – because really, do you see established authors hanging out on facebook all day long? No. They are either there to post once in awhile, or they have assistants to take care of their social media. Seriously, the next time you’re on any of the social media stuff, start a timer and see how long you’re on them when you finally exit. It’s astonishing how much of a time sink they are. If you have other things you need to do (write words, repair the sink, do a workout) use social media as  reward – set that timer for 30 minutes or an hour or whatever after you’ve done the task you want/need to do, and when the timer goes off, you’re done. Close them out and go do something else. Maybe one of these days, people will once again appreciate the nature of long form exchanges, like this, instead of 140 character bites or the inanity (“I had nachos!!!”) of most of what people post on social media. Life is too short to watch bad movies, read bad books, or waste years of your life on social media.

One of my goals this year is to post regularly here – ideally, I’d like to do that daily, even if it’s just an image from wandering around the gardens or bees. Notice that I did not say resolution, but goal. I’d like to make it into a habit, and I suppose this post is the beginning of making that habit.

Speaking of habits, I stumbled across a gamified (how I can’t stand that word) habit creator/to do application. It’s over at Habitica.com – it’s free and it’s fun. Some of the functions are not things I’m using (battling monsters with friends, for instance) because I simply want the to-do portion of it. I do still like Todoist, but I find Habitica the one I turn to more these days.

And now? Time to get back to doing some work – work work, as I’m not quite ready for the other work for the gardens and bees just yet. I’m getting there, though.

Hope your new years are falling into place for you, my handful of readers.

Where have you been??!!??

It was a long July and the first part of August has been as well. We’ve been rearranging servers t the NOC, trying to stay ahead of the weeds (and failing badly), and yesterday I had 15ml of fluid sucked out of my face under my right lower jaw because I have a huge lump there. It doesn’t sound like much, but that isn’t a very large area, and even 5ml would be a huge amount. Not nearly the same as the almost 2L I had aspirated from my right lung a few years ago, but just as painful even with some lidocaine. On the plus side, it was an ultrasound-guided aspiration, and I got to watch it on the screen, so that was pretty cool.  I can tell the fluid was adding some padding to the bulge, because now I’m left with hard lumps instead of kind of squishy ones. It will be back to the doc to see where to go from here. I’m really hoping to not have to have myself sliced up again, but if that’s how it goes, that’s how it goes.

In the meantime, I’m trying to tend my bees – a very small hive I was babying along vamoosed at some point in the past week – and with my sister’s help, trying to get the weeding done everywhere and plastic down to solarize the rows and not have to spend half my time yanking up weeds. For years now I’ve tried to come up with some kind of mulching system that is not hideously expensive, is easy both to maintain and plant through, and that would not cook the roots of the plants when we have three straight months of 100F weather. My thought is to pull back the top layer of soil in each row, maybe six inches or so, throw a layer of hay down, cover that back with the soil, put black plastic on top of that, and then a heavy layer of hay on top of that. The plastic should keep out the humongous numbers of weeds that don’t care what the weather is like, I can punch through plastic easily enough to plant/transplant, the under layer of hay will act as a water wick and retain moisture for the plants,  and the top layer of hay will keep the plastic from becoming an in-frame broiler and help retain the underlayer’s cool/moist combo. This is the theory, anyhow. I hope it works, as it would make life much easier around here.

I have five flats in the barn under the lights: primarily tomatoes and peppers – the peppers took a direct hit from pests while I was down with pneumonia over Memorial Day and they never recovered – some onions, leeks, and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower). The latter will go under some shade cloth after I get that rigged. I’m also working on rigging shade barriers for the height of the season to go along the frames to help with the insane heat we’ve been having down here. A check of my weather station records, and the notes I’ve kept from before I had a weather station tells me each summer is getting hotter, longer, than the previous one. This year, we hit 100F before the end of May, and that has lasted right to this week, where we are averaging about 93F. The issue with such high heat for things like tomatoes is that we also have high humidity. This causes the pollen to clump, so the plants may grow, and often will also flower, but fruit set is poor, as pollination is more difficult in these conditions. Rigging some shade to take the brunt of the west/south sun may help that (at least I’m hoping it will – only testing will show if it does, so that’s what we’ll do).

My hiatus from social media is still on, and life is much better for it, I must say. I’ve also stopped going to various news-related web sites to avoid getting into time-sucking, useless commentaries with people I don’t know (and in many cases, wouldn’t care to). This has also been a good thing, and I’ve stuck to reviewing headlines at Google news and just zipping in to quickly read an article without getting drawn into commenting on anything.

Life at the ranch continues: the world spins, and we with it, doing the best we can with what we have.

Reclaiming your life

First off: an aptly named “megaton” leek. This has overwintered along with some close friends, and is now officially just slightly less in diameter than my wrist. I can hear you now. “What on earth am I to do with giant, mutant leeks, farmer?”

Megaton leek

Eat them, of course. Potato leek soup. Slice them thinly and add them to whatever dish you’re making that involves onions (just lessen the onion, and add some leek). Slice them, lay them out on parchment on a half sheet pan, freeze them, then bag them. They will last practically forever, and you can just reach in and grab some as you need. The possibilities are not entirely endless, but there are a ton of them.

So what is this “reclaiming your life” thing? It is: getting off social media instead of seeing all that time go down a black hole, purposeless and wasted. You might say to yourself that you’ll just spend ten or fifteen minutes checking in, and the next thing you know, it’s three hours later and you’ve not accomplished anything, gotten yourself pissed off or stressed out, or any other not very healthy thing. Plus, the crazy people pushing woo is simply unbearable. Other than posting something about people staying away from the ranch while I get rid of this pneumonia, and one phenomenal video of a guy singing Agnus Dei (Barber’s Adagio for Strings, if you’re not familiar with that), I have not been whiling away time on facebook, not getting other things done. I haven’t been keeping an eye on twitter. I’ve posted a few bee pics to instagram. And my life has improved for it, both from a productivity standpoint and a general sanity standpoint. It has also allowed me to return to the long form posting that just seems to be impossible on the various social media sites, as that is not what they are designed for, in the overall scheme – add to that weirdo algorithms that make people miss what you say (facebook) or trying to follow far too many people (all of them), and it’s just better without it. People who want to follow what I have to say will come here or to one of my other sites if they are so inclined, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I highly recommend leaving those things behind (except for business-related posts, of course) or at least setting an actual timer if you feel you must browse through what’s going on. You’ll probably find (as I did) that you’ve been spending way too much time on things that really don’t make a huge difference in the overall scheme of things. You’ll also probably find you have quite a bit of free time to work on doing whatever it is you really want to do. The benefits far outweigh the negatives of reading whatever people are having for dinner or that they’re going to the store (seriously, I’ve seen people post to facebook that they’re going to walmart). Leave it behind and reclaim that time and your life.  End of rant.

Given the erosion of the bee population at the ranch – one hive went queenless and absolutely refused to make another, even after three tries, another hive simply absconded for no apparent reason I could determine after examining the hive, etc.  – I ordered eight packages of bees. Two will ship in April and six in May, months that are not creeping toward us, but running at full speed as if we’re playing Red Rover, Red Rover. Yesterday and today, I finally got around to processing the frames of honey I had pulled in late December and January from various hives. Usually, I would leave them on, but since winter as most people know it hasn’t really paid us a visit at all save one night that got down to 23F and a few other random days and nights of cold weather, it’s been positively springlike here. Too much honey in the hives can leave the honeybound. That spells trouble as we jog along to spring, as the queens will be hunting around for somewhere to lay, and if they don’t like what they see or if the hive feels too crowded, they will swarm. Remember, last year we had a swarm in February. In order to get things going for spring, those pulled frames had to be extracted and gotten out of the way. Total: about 100 pounds of honey, which smells like it might be a bit fermented, but we’ll have to wait and see on that. It would be a shame to have to dump it, but unless I can find someone who wants to make mead with it, that’s what will happen. Pity.

Another sign that spring is barreling down at us: frog butts on the windows, and peepers singing at night, even though the nights are still on the bit chilly side. That’s when you know: get yourself together and start busting your ass to get things done.

First up: weeding. If I want to get sunflower seeds in, and start the first round of beans, the weeding needs to be done. That’s y goal this week, in addition to laying another brood box on the only single box hive still in the beeyard – which, handily enough, I can populate with some of the spun frames, as I had a dozen of them during the honey extraction process. Marvelous.

I hope you all are well and that life is treating you kindly – or if not kindly, at least with a sort of benign neglect that does not mean life hates you.

Death of a hive

It isn’t quite Death of a Salesman, but it’s still a little sad. The small swarm I captured late in the season, which I was, for months, trying to keep alive to the point of combining it with the remaining bees and queen from hive #11 that absconded is dead. That’s the way things go sometimes, I suppose. Doesn’t make it any easier. I took the frames from those boxes and left them out yesterday afternoon for the girls from the other hives to clean. Late in the day toward sundown, I put them into a couple of hive bodies to avoid having them get rained on or collect dew. After a few more days, I’ll go out and collect those frames and boxes and store them in the shed until spring arrives.

In other news, yesterday was a bee day only, exercise-wise. We’ve had record breaking temperatures here and insanely high humidity. I did manage to get through the remaining hives I had not yet inspected and do all the things that needed to be done with #11. The other hives all seem to be going about their business normally. Hives #13 and #14, which are package bees from May of this year, never really built up to the level I would have liked to have seen out of them. Poorly mated queens can cause that, so those two in particular will require some watching next season to make sure the queens get themselves in gear to build up the colony – if they don’t, the bees themselves may decide to replace their queens as unproductive, a process known as supercedure. This would be fine with me, as it’s how I’ve let the other hives manage themselves.

As we did last year, we will be doing an end of year/beginning of year harvest of honey. The youngsters cleaned the extractor (thanks!), and will be ready for me whenever I’m ready for it. Generally, we wouldn’t be harvesting honey at this point, but the weird weather has this unexpected bonus round.

The first of the year is supposed to bring much cooler, winter-like weather to us here, but no freezes in the forecast as of right now. That’s good, as it will allow the girls to recognize that it’s time to slow down a little, and I’ll be able to focus more on clearing the beds for the upcoming season, checking the grow lights in the barn, doing some minor repairs here and there, and in general getting the soil ready for when it’s warm enough to start planting out.

Here’s to 2016 being a much, much better growing and harvesting year than 2015.

Bees. Beez. Bezz. Bzzz.

I started keeping notes on the hives back in October, when it was clear this was necessary to keep track of each hive and to remind me of what I was doing as we headed toward winter and started to wind things down. This has been a great help, given that winter does not appear to be in an hurry to arrive, and allows me to keep track of which hives I’ve swapped top and bottom boxes, which hives I’ve found the queens and larvae (or both), how many bees I’m observing in each hive, and all the other million little things that go along with keeping bees versus having bees.

Yesterday, after finding an abandoned queen, I took the small swarm I caught and combined it with the box where the queen remained, newspaper between the boxes so the new bees could get used to the new queen’s pheromones. Today’s visit to the beeyard including checking that combined hive, and there was no queen (at least I couldn’t find her) and very few bees . I’ve been nursing this small group of bees along for months, trying to get them to produce their own queen, and they simply haven’t gotten it down. I left the setup out there for now, but I’m probably going to have to write this one down as a loss.

The other hives I checked today, and where I swapped boxes, seem to be doing well: found the queens in a couple, found some larvae, found a good base population of bees, and found lots and lots of honey. So much honey that I’ll probably need to take some off so the girls don’t get any bright ideas about possibly swarming out because the amount of empty comb real estate is running out quickly. As with everything else in life, every day is a learning experience, and some days raise more questions than answers – right now, those mostly revolve around the weather and the extraordinarily high temperatures we’ve been having, since that means the girls remain active, foraging, drawing comb, and finding nectar and pollen to store.

Tomorrow, I’ll go back out to the hives and check a few more and get another great workout from moving heavy things, until all have been inspected as this month winds down. Who knows what 2016 will bring? Other than the need to determine the timing for making splits to form new hives when the existing hives start ramping up after winter, that is. If winter ever arrives.

The ranch workout

I’ve joked in the past about the ranch workout. This is a very real thing. It doesn’t involve lifting weights the same way for x repetitions and it doesn’t involve working two body groups one day, then two others another, and then having leg day. No, you’re going to get an all-body workout, whether you like it or not. Case in point: today.

Every day (or every other day) I wander out to the beeyard and see if any of the hives need a topping off of their feeders. Today while doing that, I decided to take a look in a couple of hives, just to make sure things were all as they should be.

They were not.

I had out two supers on hive #11, because they were going full tilt gathering, even though it’s technically fall/winter. They don’t understand this because it simply is not cold enough here for that little trigger in their minds to understand they should be hunkering down to ride out the season and get geared up for spring. Even though the last two nights have been very cold (for us), at 35F and 34F respectively, the days are warm enough that the girls can fly – for non-bee people, generally if the temperature is 50F or better, they really have no issues going about their business as usual.

What this means is they continue to collect pollen and nectar – because the plants also don’t realize it’s fall/winter and are still in bloom – and they rapidly fill their combs with both. This raises the risk of the hive producing a swarm, as there is no way for the queen to do her one duty in life: lay eggs. During their lives, the bees also tend to move upward in the hives, so at times it’s necessary to swap the top and bottom brood boxes so they are downstairs with room to grow upstairs.

Today I found that hive #11 had absconded. A lot of people don’t understand this, and jump right to the conjecture that it must be colony collapse disorder (CCD), which as anyone who has even casually watched news items knows about. The bees simply pack themselves  and fly off, for reasons that are not always readily understood. This hive, for instance, had plenty of stores, plenty of pollen, and I found some brood on a few of the frames. There was no huge infestation of pests that love beehives, like small hive beetles, and no incursion from other bees or critters that will happily rob out a hive that has become empty (yellowjackets are quite common around here for that). There is nothing environmental here that can account for their disappearance. They just left, for reasons I’ll likely never know. I also found this.

Hive 11 queen bee

That is the queen for hive #11. She was part of one of the packages of bees I picked up earlier in the year. Usually, the existing queen goes with the swarm. As this queen is clipped (one of her wings is missing) she could not leave when everyone else did. I suspect the girls made another queen  – a process called supercedure – and left with that one instead, leaving this gal behind.

Here’s the problem with that: not enough bees. The queen spends her time roaming around the frames, laying eggs and generally being attended by the other bees. It’s only natural, of course, since she is royalty. But, in a hive with a reduced population, having cooler weather is not a good thing. Luckily, we have not had any freezes, but the brood that was left in this hive is probably dead because there are not enough workers to tend them and keep the hive temperature up.

I captured a small hive late in the season, and they have been toiling away, but the queen in that swarm is either already in winter mode, or is just a poor layer. As swarms usually leave with the existing queen as noted above, that means they are traveling with an aged queen whose good laying days are over.The irony of this is that without intervention by the beekeeper, a poorly-laying queen may not lay well enough for the hive to create a new queen in a queen cup, feeding it larva royal jelly before capping off the cup and waiting for the new queen to emerge. As I hadn’t found a queen in the hive from which that swarm emerged, and given her poor laying now, I suspect her best days are over.

It may sound cruel, but this is where the management comes in. I found the queen in the captured swarm hived and dispatched her. The dispatched hive got a later of newspaper over it, and the brood box from the captured swarm went atop that. The newspaper is necessary to make sure the swarm bees don’t kill off the queen of hive #11 immediately – which they will do, since they still have the original queen’s pheromone with them. Having a couple of slits in the newspaper will allow the upper box of bees to get acclimated to the new queen’s pheromone. Eventually, they will eat their way through the newspaper and be able to move between the boxes. Most likely, the queen (and any of the bees that remained with her) will move up to the top box because their natural instinct is to move upwards. That’s fine, as I’ll just swap them top to bottom, bottom to top.

In the meantime, I had pulled a bunch of frames from the absconded hive: lots and lots of honey. Looks like we’ll have another extraction here at the end of the year, or perhaps during the new year. Either way, hive #11 had produced a lot of honey, and they didn’t remove it from the supers to take with them. Based on a look at the brood frames and their patterns, there was a good deal of honey that had been in those, and the swarm took that with them, leaving the supers undisturbed. There was also an indication of wax moth incursion to the hive, something not terribly surprising since there were not enough bees to protect against that. I cleaned up some of those by scraping off the comb they were in, but some I just laying against the hive stand itself, which invites the bees to rob out those frames and take the good stuff back to their hives. This is the hive disassembly.

Hive 11 disassembled
I pulled a bunch of the honey because the diminished number of bees in the box won’t be using it. Everything related to beekeeping is heavy past the initial setup and settling in of the bees. The frames from the supers generally weigh anywhere from six to ten pounds apiece, which equates to a full box of 50-60 pounds thanks to the weight of the woodenware itself plus all the bees on the frames. The deep boxes can weigh 80-100 pounds apiece.  All of this inspection, replacing, and shuffling of hive gear is just one more of the fabulous workouts to be had at the ranch.

I also checked a few more hives, and did a bit of rearranging, but I’d been out there for a couple of hours by that point, and my body was telling me – via the use of painful spasms – that it had had enough for the day, so how about we button up these hives and have another go at inspections tomorrow. And that’s what I did: pulled the wagon out of the beeyard, and it’s currently parked on the front porch so we can move the frames inside and either store them for now, or do a cleanup of the extractor and go ahead and do an extraction this week.

Bringing in the honey

 

That leaves us with twelve hives now – eleven and a half, more accurately, I think, since one is an attempt to build a new hive out of two puzzle pieces. It also leaves me with a question: do I go ahead and place an order for a few more package bees, which will ship in the spring, or do I keep biding my time until spring and then start splitting the hives I have – or do I do both? Splitting them now could be problematic if all the drones have been pushed out of the hives here and elsewhere, as that would make it likely the new queen for the split hive would not be able to mate until spring since there would theoretically be no drones to fly with this late in the season. I am 99% sure we will be able to spring splits with these hives in any case, as they are pretty darn healthy. It’s a quandary.