Saturday, August 7, 2010

Crush and Strain Method

To get an idea of how I've spent my Friday night, visit Linda's blog and watch her video on the crush and strain method of harvesting honey.

Then remove anything that makes the process convenient, and you'll have a better idea of what I went through.

The Story: Mark is migrating another group of bees. This time they're in Kemper County, and they'd set up housekeeping in a huge metal barn with a camp house built inside, but a "one story" camp house. So in that big inviting space between the plywood ceiling of the camp house and the rest of the barn, the bees built a hive.

From the evidence of queen cells in some of the old, dark brood, this hive may have been growing a new queen. Mark will inspect the hive within a week to see if he needs to buy a new queen quickly to keep the colony together, or if a new queen had hatched out and was busy doing her job.

What he brought home was a cooler full of comb most of which looked old, dark, and brittle, at least what I could see on top. He also brought home a bucket of lighter comb filled with honey (and bees!) and an old Tupperware container, also full of honey comb (but not as many bees). I picked through the best looking comb and trimmed up some chunks to save for eating (photo above).

However, because of the condition of everything else in the containers, we'll use this honey to feed the existing bees, rather than feeding them with sugar water. I'm glad we'll be able to feed this honey to the bees that worked so hard to make it when Mark moves the hive to Bee Hill. They'll be healthier if they're eating honey.

Thankfully, Mark has ordered some equipment that will help with this process, namely a bucket with screen and a honey gate. I ended up with three full quart jars of honey, and when I got up Saturday morning the container holding the remnants of crushed comb had about half an inch of honey in the bottom that had drained out overnight!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hive 4: The Barbecue Bees

Rather than rehash the process in words, here is a short slide show of highlights from our time spent removing "The Barbecue Bees" from the gas grill and relocating them first to the deep super, then eventually to Bee Hill. It was an interesting process and by far the fastest and easiest of his attempts. They went right in on Friday even before we left and we picked them up Sunday night. The honey was dark even though it was the spring batch, but these bees were near the piney woods without a lot of diversity in their nectar sources.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bee-Friendly Gardening

I recently subscribed to The Herb Companion magazine. They had some tips for attracting bees to your garden. If the thought of inviting "those stinging insects" into your yard bothers you, these tips will also make your garden more inviting to butterflies.

And how can you *not* want butterflies around?

At the bottom of the tips page, they offer the full article, which includes some recipes for making natural skin care products using honey. If you're game, they also have a big give-away, but you'll have to provide information for the chance. They give you the choice to opt in or out of the free weekly e-newsletter.

Image via ColourLovers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bee Keeper Tech Support

My phone rang at about 8:30 a.m.

Mark: "Do you happen to know where my third feeder is? I found one by the stairs and one in my office."

Keri: "I've tried to make sure all of your bee stuff makes it away from the kitchen, back downstairs." (Thinks to herself: why is it always my fault when stuff gets "lost"? Then she remembers her sister's theory that ovaries are also a homing device for locating lost items. So maybe it's not blame that is motivating this phone call.)

Mark: "Is there anywhere you think it could be? I know I bought three feeders."

Keri thinks for a moment.

Keri: "Yes. It's in Hive 4."

Mark: "It is?"

Keri: "Yes, I took a picture last week." (The above photo shows the feeder as it sits in a hive body, just in case you were wondering what one looks like!)

Thoughtful pause.

Mark: "That's right. I was going to feed them today but I already did! I feel much better now."

That makes two of us. I *hate* feeling guilty for losing something when it wasn't my fault!

Just call me the Bee Keeper's Back-Up Brain. :-)

Here is a closer photo of the feeder with the cover off. The bees fly or crawl up through the hole in the center that opens into the hive box below. The upside-down cup has little concentric ridges all the way down for their tiny bee feet to grip, so they climb down to the sugar water to take a sip and then return to the hive below without risking drowning.

Feeding bees is a controversial subject. (An aside: we heard early on that there are as many opinions about the proper methods of beekeeping as there are bee keepers!) For an extensive and thoughtful treatment of the subject (if from a northern perspective) visit this page by Michael Bush at Bush Farms.

For the record, Mark is feeding these new colonies briefly to give them a good head start -- they'll build wax faster with a steady food supply. As they adjust to the new locale and prefer the flora to the feeder, he removes it. We're planning to leave them all of the honey they create this season to last them through the winter, and delay harvesting until spring to hopefully ensure their health and vitality.

Bee Hill: After

Can you believe it? That bare soil became this lush hill. So lush, Mark had to bring the mower and weed eater to deal with the millet before he could work the hives. There are a lot of things you can say about Mississippi, but lacking vegetation? No way.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Bee Hill: Before

Rain has been sporadic this summer. Mark had taken his tractor and used the disc to break up the ground, but the rain had made a mess. Rather than disc the gigantic clods again, he got seed in the ground so he could put his custom-built hive stands out. In this photo, he's driving a post into the ground. Why? Because he's OCD, and he had to run a plumb line so the stands were all perfectly even. He measured the spaces in between so the bees all had the recommended distance from each other, and then we leveled four stands.
Now, this bucolic view to the left does not reveal the truth. When I took this photo, it was noon on a Saturday. In Mississippi. In the summer. Which meant it was "hotter than the hammered hinges of Hades" as a friend of mine says. Normal people would have waited until it was cooler, and then not spent a bunch of time measuring everything. But, we never claimed to be normal.

After what felt like forever during which time I drove the 4-wheeler back to the house for supplies including more ice water, we were done. Bee Hill was ready for business.