2017-05-19

Further Apiary Encouragement

Checked hives yesterday post-storm:  Two hives had their lids blown off, but no apparent impact on the bees.  The new queens have been realeased from their cages by the colony (ate through the sugar plug) in all three new hives.  Lots of activity.  Comb is being drawn, there is new honey in the deep frames.

The Italians are hard at it.  The walk-away split seems to be doing fine.  The source hive is still heavily populated and very active.  I put three supers on the source hive. Plan to just leave them there until the end of June and not bother the hive much. I figure the frames may not fill evenly, but will fully over that period of time which is fine with me.

Looking really good overall. 

2017-05-17

The rest of the Farm

Our apiary has been the focus recently as it is a new project which requires a lot of guess work, planning, research, and learning in general.  That is fine, but there are 234 acres here and plenty going on besides bees.

We have three feed lots here on the farm and we leased them to my next door neighbor this last winter.  I was concerned about the fensing around the lots, some of it is very old and I was not sure how well it would hold up to a rather large number of confined 300 pound young stock.  Not to mention folks from another farm using our buildings.  It actually worked out well for both us and our neighbor.  Well enough in fact that we have agreed to repeat the operation this coming winter.  That is good for the Farm.  Buildings that are used don't fall down.  The weterers were another concern of mine.  Cattle drink a lot of water and it is very important that they stay hydrated during cold weather.  Problems with such equipment in the winter is not a good thing.  It is expensive to fix if something goes wrong.  We were fortunate and these critical pieces held up just fine.  So this new activity was a good success.

Having sold off un-needed equipment has left us with room to work in and on the buildings finally.  We had been pretty crowded which meant some equipment sat outside, which I hate.  There are still a few pieces that need to be sold, but almost everything can now be stored inside.  That makes maintenance easier and keeps the place looking a lot better.  There are some pieces  of equipment which have not been used in years but will now have to come into service.  It all has to be stripped down and checked over: bearings, belts, shafts and pretty much any moving part has to be checked over, replaced if required or just cleaned up.  Whatever, it is a lot of work to do.

I did a fence check the other day as best I could.  We are in reasonable shape in that area, though some work needs to be done around the feed lots.  My neighbors are helping me out with this.  There is no way that I can accomplish that kind of physical labor.  These folk have gone out and patched where needed.  All they ask is that I provide the materials.  I can't even begin to say how grateful I am.  It is humbling...

The yard around the house is cleaning up nicely.  The kids that rent the house really like making things look neat.  They have cleaned up two of the larger flower gardens and are working on the rest as they have time.  It is really nice to have young renters that give a damn.  Agian, we have been and are fortunate in this regard.

The  workshop is a work in progress.  Part of the challenge is that there is so much stuff that is brand new but no longer needed for our operation.  Stuff like drive chains, sprockets, bearings, filters.  What does one do with this stuff.  It is too valuable to toss, too bulky to store.  I guess I am going to have to have a garage sale and hope I can get rid of some of it.  That too takes a lot of time, and being that I split my time between MN and the Farm, time is a challenge.  That said, the shop is looking better than it has in a while.

The CRP ground looks darn good to me.  I was worried because we had not done a burn down (herbicide) prior to planting the native grasses, thus allowing a lot of weeds to propegate through the new planting.  I did a lot of mowing last year to try to mitigate that.  It seems to have paid off.  The fields look good with most of the weeds being crowded out by the intended grasses.  I still see a lot of thistle and suspect that I will be spending some time with the hand spayer this summer.  Probably a lot of time...   The new polinator habitat is comeing along well.  No gullys in spite of some heavy rains right after plantinng.  The oats is up about 4" and that will help establlish the other 15 varieties of flowering plants that are the target of such a planting.  I have to say that the expense of three acres of pollinator habitat is daunting.  The shit is expensive!  I hope it is worth it.

The pasture is rented out again for the summer to the neighbor to the East.  He is taking good care of it, having fertilized this spring with clearly visisble results.  The smaller pastures near the buildigs will have a few head of cattle in them just to keep the weeds down.  I am going to look into getting a few goats to help keep down the muti-floral rose and other brush like plants.  Maybe we could have some goat meat in the freezer this fall.....I like goat stew.

Ran into an odd problem a couple of weeks back.  The renters called to say that the pump on the well would not work.  Breakers were re-set, wires were checked, no clue.  Turns out ants got into the pressure switch and prevented it from closing when there was demand for water.  Easy to fix, but I would never have guessed.  The damn things have gummed up the works twice since.  Kind of strange having to put Terro arond the well to keep ants out of the pump workings.....  Well, now we know.

As usual, the amount of work exceeds the amount of time, money, and other resources by a factor of at least  10 to 1.  And I move so frigging slow that one might as well take that ratio to 100 to 1.  That said, I would not know what to do with myself if it were not for the Farm.  Again, I can't express the gratitude I have for the opportunity to be a part of this land.  

Respite....

Yesterday we received three new Carni queens to replace those that died in the cold and rain while I was off convelescing.  To recap, we had three 5 frame nucs ordered and recieved April 30th.  Due to circumstances beyond our control, those bees did not get into their hives right away and the nucs sat in the cold and rain for three days.

When I checked, the queens in the queen cages had of course died along with probably a third of the worker population.  I transfered those which were left alive to the new hives and then was away for a week.  When I got back to check, all three hives showed lots of activity including drawing comb, bringing in pollen and nectar.

That of course was encouraging.

We decided to order new queens as a result.  The little buggers are not cheap: $30.00 each, but stacked up against the original investment and encourging signs of hive health, it seemed worth it.  I installed the new queens yesterday.  The queens came in three hole cages and I put each cage in its new hive, pulling the cork on the candy stuffed side so that it would take tme for the new queens to get out of the cages and into the hive.  This hopefully allows the existing worker bees to become familiar with the new queen through pheromone familiarization, and to then become a single working colony.  It is said that if this time is not allowed, the existing bees will see the queen as an interloper and kill her.  Not sure of that, but figure it makes some sense.

It is supposed to rain today again, so probably won't check until tomorrow to see how everybody is adjusting in each hive.  Should be interesting...

On a separate note, the Italian walk-away split seems to be going ok.  The source hive is active.  The target hive is less so at the entrance, but there is plenty of population working the frames inside, which means they all didn't just get up and go back to the source hive.  It indicates to me that they are setting up house and hopefully recogniing that they don't have a queen and will start making one from the brood that was transferred.  Will know by the middle of next month.  If there is evidence of new eggs and brood, that will mean they successfully generted a new queen that subsequently went out and mated, came back and started her job.

I am hopeful for this split.  The Italians are very agressive producers of honey based on last years production.  I hope we can build up more colonies of Italians with this walk-away method as it is much less expensive as compared to purchasing package bees.  Our bees also have no evidence of diseases or infestations thus far, and not bringing in bees from outside the farm will hopefully help maintain that trend.  Our apiary is quite secluded and the closest other apiary is a good five miles away.  That means our bees are somewhat quaranteened.  There will be expsure to the wild bee population of course, but I think that will be mostly healthy.

I note here also that our bees are a quarter of a mile from the nearest tilled field. That is intended to keep them away from pesticides and herbicides which are so prolific on such fields.  The bees have both running and standing water sources within 100 meters of the hives as well.  Their food sources are pretty much all native plants such as the various trees and wild flowers that one finds in woods and pastures throughout Wisconsin.  Right now, the food sources look really good.  Dandilions are thick, and the trees are now at the middle stage of full blossom.  Black berries, wild plumb, oak, maple, basswood, walnut and hickory as well as wild apple and grape are all full blossom right now too.  So the bees have plenty of source for pollen and nectar.  Should be a good year from that perspective.

We shall see...... 

2017-05-13

Recognize, Adapt, Carry On...

Well, the late April bee keeping trip turned into a saga.  We had invested in some growth of the apiary this spring, ordering three new colonies of bees as well as equipment to house and maintain them.  Additionally, we got a bit of extra equipment due to the fact that one of the existing hives grew outside its capacity to stay in one hive.

The new bees arrived on time, and I went to pick them up on April 30th around 19:30.  It was a cold and rainy day, and pickup was rather miserable for bees and people.  After loading and securing the bees to the truck bed, I headed for the Farm.  A  long drive, and I was already under the weather with what seemed to be bronchitis.  Got to the Farm about 03:00 and was too tired to get to bed, so just slept in the truck for a few hours.

Monday was wet and rainy as was Tuesday, and I was starting to feel really ill.  By Wednesday it was sunny and cool.  I did the best I could getting the bees established, but was simply too weak to do the job properly.  I headed for urgent care...and ended up in the hospital for the next seven days with atypical pnumonia.  By the time I was realeased, the queens for the three new hives had died of exposure.  About half of the rest of the beees survived and I got them into hives properly.  They seem active and reasonably healthy, are bringing in both pollen and nectar.  I ordered new queens for all three hive yesterday and will introduce them on Tuesday when they arrive here at the farm.  I think the new hives wll be fine once the queens are established.  Time will tell....

Yesterday was warm and sunny and I had a bit of energy, so decided  to do the anticipated 'walk-away-split'.  What that means is that a very strong hive is litterally split into two hives.  The walk away part means that one does not introduce a new queen into the new hive.  Only nurse bees and brood are transferred to the new hive.  The queen stays behind.

Theoretically, the bees in the new hive will understand that they no longer have a queen and will make a new one out of the brood that is transferred with them.  I am really looking forward to seeing just how this works.  Last year I managed to save a weak hive doing something similar, adding brood to a hive that had lost its queen and letting them create a new queen on their own.  It worked.

This split though is to prevent the bees from  becoming frustrated with too little space and leaving.  The hive that was split yesterday is very strong!  I hope the child hive does as well.

Overall, the apiary looks rather nice.  The new deeps and supers are well assembled and strong as well as looking rather nice I think.  There is a lot of activity around the hives in spite of the beating the bees took due to my not getting them taken care of properly.  I am hopeful.....

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Side note:  I met with a local bee-keeper who is getting out of the business due to health reasons.  What a trove of information!  It is like sitting down with a book one does not have to read.  The stories  this guy has to tell about bee keeping and just life in general are interesting and entertaining.  I learned some, and had some things I already knew re-enforced. Just really cool to sit with this old guy and listen...  very cool!