Summer Honey

I spent the weekend extracting summer honey. This is the first year we’ve extracted honey two times. The amazing thing is how dark this honey is compared to the lighter spring honey we extracted in July. I’m not exactly sure why it is so much darker, other than I know that the nectar that the bees collect determines the color. That is to say, different flowers produce different color honey. Our land has a variety of flowering trees, bushes and plants that blossom throughout the year, so I suppose it’s not too surprising that summer honey differs from spring honey. But I’ve never seen it this dark before. It’s basically black for all intents and purposes.

(Here is a good article from ErinNudi.com on the benefits of dark honey.)

Basically darker honey has more vitamins, anti-oxidents, and nutrients than light honey. Dark honey is preferred in Europe, and light in America. Dark is better with your oatmeal, whereas light is better with your tea.

Like wine I suppose, honey has a variety of flavor profiles, and there are even honey tasting events. We did our own impromptu honey tasting, and they do smell and taste different. You could definitely smell the difference while I was extracting the honey, as the dark honey has a stronger smell than light. We bottle our honey similar to wine, in that I mark the season, year, type and hive number or numbers on each bottle. Honey never spoils, so we plan on saving at least a bottle or two from every extraction we do, so we’ll have a “library” or catalog of our honey throughout our lives as beekeepers.

We pulled three frames from Hive No. 3, and eleven frames from Hive No. 1, for a total of 14 frames in this batch. I combined them all into one “vintage”. Right now I’m naming the honey ‘3/11 Summer 2015 Wildflower’, but it’s so dark and we’re close to Halloween, I may name it something different. The “3/11” part indicates the number of frames in this “blend”. It’s not always going to be convenient to separate extractions by hive, in which case we’ll have blended varieties.

Hive No. 1 is a real overachiever this year. A typical new hive won’t usually produce any harvestable honey its first year. Hive No. 1, the angry bee hive, has given us over 85 lbs. of honey in year one. And it still has plenty for itself over winter; nearly an entire mid sized super or more.

One last note before we get to the totals and pics. The yellow jackets are out in full force again this fall. We’ve been filling traps with them, and we’ve put our entrance reducers on both hives. A smaller entrance is easier to defend. And we’ve dropped both lids flat to keep the yellow jackets out of the top of the hive as well. When I was cleaning the equipment today, there were a lot of yellow jackets out. We were killing them one at a time when possible. So fingers crossed that both hives survive until the first frosts show up and the yellow jackets die off.

Totals – Summer 2015 3/11 Wildflower honey

Frames: 14 (3 hive 3, 11 hive 1)

47 pounds of honey

(2) 4 oz. jars

(56) 8 oz. jars

(5) 16 oz. jars

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Honey Bee Update

Inspecting hive No. 3 in August 2015.

Inspecting hive No. 3 in August 2015.

As promised, though a little late, the third of my posts updating you on what’s been going on. You may, or may not, remember that in June we were attacked by hive No. 1. Since then a lot has happened so let me get you back up to speed.

After hive No. 1 attacked, resulting in 17 stings for me and over 25 stings for my wife we let the hive cool off for a day. Only for me to go out to deposit some compost in the compost pile and get stung on top of my head. The subsequent day I was stung on my ankle and on my lower eyelid, both while cutting the grass.

Enough was enough. We called a couple of bee keeping friends to come out and look at the hive. The plan was to find the queen and step on her. Then we could re-queen the hive with some new, less angry, genetics.

All three ladies, two friends and my wife, went out to the hive to find the queen. The big tough guy in the group, me, waited by the compost pile in my bee suit. I had a smoker too, just in case things got crazy. I liked to think I was the support guy who could run screaming for help in case things went awry.

They took the hive apart, swarmed by 60,000 angry bees.

I stood thirty yards away being repeatedly attacked by two very angry bees.

Turns out they found the queen, were going to capture her in lieu of squashing, but then lost her again when someone went to retrieve a queen “cage” from a car. So they installed queen excluders between the three major sections of the hive; the plan being that next time we checked the hive we could quickly figure out which hive section she was in, then we could squish her.

The feedback from our friends was that our hive was aggressive, but not quite as angry as the hives they had been splitting earlier in the day, elsewhere.

The ladies inspect hive No. 1

The ladies inspect hive No. 1

We did check the bees again in a week or two. The queen excluder trick worked, we figured out which box she was in. I’m not sure if we saw her, but the bees didn’t attack us that much. That coupled with the fact that they produced a huge quantity of honey earned her a pardon.

The hive was just too strong, and performed too well to kill her off.

We would just have to endure their eagerness to kill us.

‘Cause honey.

You know.

Hive No. 3 had been doing well meanwhile. Then at some point they lost a queen and we thought they didn’t re-queen themselves. So we actually bought a new queen since the hive was devoid of capped brood (baby bees in cells waiting to hatch). Turns out we might have had a virgin queen because the last two times we inspected the hive, we saw a queen that was not the one we bought. (The one we bought was marked).

Here, you can see the "Virgin Queen" of hive No. 3.

Here, you can see the “Virgin Queen” of hive No. 3.

Harvest wise we extracted honey from hive No. 3 in early July, and from hive No. 1 in late July. All the honey is considered Spring 2015 Wildflower, and label as such by hive number. Honey never spoils, so we will keep a jar or two from each harvest. Generally speaking we label all of our honey with the proper vintage information. Theoretically down the road you could collect a variety of vintages and compare the taste. Our plan is to start a journal and record our harvests. I’d also like to start charting the bloom schedule for each year.

I don’t have the information for hive No. 3 in front of me right now, but it was an average harvest. I think I extracted six (6) frames, and got about twenty-five (25) 8oz. jars of honey.

Angry hive No. 1’s production was off the charts, or at least our new beekeeping charts. On July 25th, 2015 I extracted 15 frames full of honey. Resulting in 50 lbs. of honey (nearly 4+ gallons). We filled fifty-four (54) 8oz jars, twenty-two (22) 4oz gift jars, and three (3) 16oz bulk mason jars. Retail for the honey we got from hives No. 1 & 3 is around $600+. Not a bad take for our bees, some of whom tried to murder us.

Honey flow after extracting hive No. 1 honey.

Honey flow after extracting hive No. 1 honey.

The summer 2015 haul of honey from hive No. 1. 15 frames. 54 8oz bottles, 22 4oz bottles, 3 mason jars. 50 lbs. of honey total.

The summer 2015 haul of honey from hive No. 1.
15 frames. 54 8oz bottles, 22 4oz bottles, 3 mason jars. 50 lbs. of honey total.

We’re keeping an eye on the supers. Hive No. 1 could potentially fill another in late summer and still have enough for their winter. So we could be extracting more in September. We’ll have a better idea next time we check. Hive No. 3, with their queen drama, probably is done for the year in terms of providing honey for us.

Right now golden rod is in full bloom, so there’s plenty of pollen to be had. The summer has been extremely dry though; not sure how that will affect things. Clover is pretty much done as are daisies. Cone flowers and black-eyed susans are still in bloom.

So there you have it. Your honey bee update for mid-August.

Basement drywall should start this week so stay tuned for updates on that as our basement is transformed. Should be exciting to see.

Bees

After a long art show weekend we finally found the time to check the bees again. We weren’t too far behind our normal two to three-week check up on our pollinating friends.

So far this year the two remaining hives we have, or I should say the one remaining and one new hive, have been seemingly doing well. Hive No. 1 has been growing and hive No. 3 has been the best performer this year.

We recently had an inspection by the county. It’s a voluntary program where by an inspector checks out your hives. They said hive No. 1 had a queen and hive No. 3 was building queen cells and had some mites. Nothing outside the normal for our hives. Nothing we were worried about. We treated for the mites, and we go through 1-2 queens a year it seems.

Today we opened up hive No. 3 and everything looked pretty good. We did not see eggs or a queen, but saw lots of bees being born, capped brood and a few queen cells. So theoretically if there’s no queen, they’re in the process of making one.

There were a ton of bees flying about, not too thrilled that we were checking them.

We did pull off about six frames of honey from the hive. One of the mid-sized supers was full of honey, and all the frames without brood on them are ours now. About 20 lbs. of honey I’d wager. We replaced the frames with some of the frames from the top super, and actually took the top super off. I’ll look to extract honey this week.

We set the honey frames in a food safe bin, and set the bin off to the side while we checked hive No. 1.

The wife and I took the inner cover off of hive No. 1 and you could tell right away its single super was full of honey too. I removed the super and the middle deep sized box, setting them down on nearby hay bales. Upon returning to the hive the air was thick with honey bees. Quickly though there were more bees than I could handle.

The sound was deafening really. I could feel their bodies bouncing off my bee suit. Taking two steps back I could tell there was a problem. Checking hive No. 3 there were a lot of bees, thick in the air for example but this was different.

I turned around and took a few more steps and knew I was in trouble. I briskly walked a dozen yards towards the garden but that made no difference. That’s when I felt the first sting through my bee suit.

“I gotta go!” I yelled out to my wife.

Usually I’m the one who gets bothered by the bees, so quite honestly I thought this was just another little episode.

Soon my calculated walk away from the hive turned into a quicker jog; intermittent running. I could feel bees all over me. Two maybe three stings through my jeans. Like getting hit with a hot pin point for a split second.

My bee suit just covers my torso and arms, long thick leather gloves cover up to my elbows. Regular jeans, shoes and sock round out my defenses. My wife’s suit is a whole body suit.

I reached the driveway covered in bees. The sound of buzzing was as loud as when I was near the hive seemingly. I turned back briefly wondering about my wife. Fortunately she had started towards the drive as well. Unfortunately at that point my defenses all failed. The bees had found the opening of my pant legs and I could feel them inside of my jeans. Inexplicably one was inside my suit, crawling on my neck.

As I got stung quickly in succession by several bees I went from trying to brush them off to actively killing them. Still the air was thick around me with them. And every crevice of my clothing had bees in various states of stinging and dying. Many having stung nothing but folds of my bee suit, jeans or gloves. They wouldn’t get off of me. I would rake one gloved hand over my arm with little effect. Next thing I know my sleeve is pushed up and there’s exposed skin on my arm, covered in a half-dozen bees.

I spun around not knowing what to do. I could feel them in the pockets of my jeans even. My wife came at me, two smoking smudge pellets in her hands, trying to smoke away the bees from me. I frantically swatted at my arms and legs, trying to kill every bee I could see. Twenty more yards down the driveway I sprinted. Only a handful of bees remained. In my mind I had bee stung countless times. I stepped on the bees in the gravel.

At some point my only option was to take all of my clothes off and chance it with the few remaining bees. There were too many INSIDE my suit and only one way to get away from them. I peeled off my bee suit and stepped on it repeatedly with my shoe. I kicked off my shoes and they flew inside of my shoes. I dropped my jeans, bees examining my pockets for loose change.

We spent another five minutes finishing off the remaining bees, knocking them down and stepping on them. The last bee I thought was in my hair, I could hear it like it was in my brain actually. Me begging my wife to find it and kill it. Turns out it was under my chin, and flew off as I stood up.

Eventually we made it inside my studio. Me standing in my underwear, red welts swelling on my arms. My wife took her boots off and three bees flew out. With the help of a ladder and fly swatter I made quick work of them as they buzzed about the north studio window.

After catching our breath, I took the time to put on tougher canvas pants, a sweatshirt and double socks. We had to go back out and re-assemble hive No. 1.

The wife lead the way with her smoker in hand. The bees had settled down a bit. I quickly lifted the middle deep into place, and then the upper mid-size box on top of it, not caring too much if I crushed any honey bees. We did add one completely new, empty mid-sized box to the top of the hive. We then replaced the inner and outer covers to the hive, and returned all of our frames, honey and tools to the driveway area. Technically we could have pulled probably six to ten frames of honey from hive No. 1 if it wasn’t for our bee attack escapade.

Back inside the house we counted about 9-10 definite stings on me, mostly my arms. The wife had a few stings on her legs. Her full suit afforded her better protection. And I think the bees keyed in on my as their primary target, feeding off of their attack and my eventual fear.

Once they got going, there was no stopping them.

I believe my clothing, despite only being a half suit and jeans, minimized the effectiveness of their stings, with many of the stings not fully registering. I easily felt a dozen stings on my legs, but there’s only one really visible. Same goes for my arms. Of the eight or so I can see, there were probably twice as many that I felt during the attack.

The fault is all ours, or mine. Our laziness, cockiness and / or stupidity is why it happened. First off it was a rainy overcast day, so the entire hive was basically at home – probably well over 40,000 bees when we opened it up. Secondly, with us being so busy, we hadn’t had a chance to add another box or clear out the upper mid-size box, so the bees were probably pissed that their hive was so full – no room. Lastly we didn’t smoke them at all. We’ve gotten in the habit of not smoking the bees when we check them because old hive No. 1 was so docile. And even No. 3 was pretty docile. Last year’s No. 2 hive package, and this new No. 1 hive package are extremely aggressive. We need to smoke them, and we need to wait for a sunny day when most of the bees are out foraging.

Long term our problem is just going to be our schedule. We may be too busy for bees. At the very least once these colonies die out, we may not be in such a rush to replace them. Bee keeping is an incredible hobby, but it does require time and consistent checking of the hives. Maybe our lifestyle or life requirements aren’t congruent with those needs. We’ll see. We also talk about making our sphere smaller so to speak. We’ve got too many irons in too many fires, and it’s starting to show.

It was a pretty freaky, scary experience today.

Lesson learned.

(P.S. speaking of making my sphere smaller, you’ll notice I don’t write as much anymore. There are two reasons, one is there’s not much going on. I’m either working or looking for work.  And two by time ten o’clock rolls around I just don’t feel like writing. It’s not like the old days where writing and art were fun creative releases in the evenings. I need to figure out what’s going to stay in my sphere of things that are important to me and my happiness, and what is going to have to go by the wayside. Hopefully writing will manifest itself either in this blog or some other way, but I just have to wait and see and figure it out. Something has to give because I’m basically burnt out mentally. Need to focus on what’s important and adjust my sphere accordingly. Thanks again to everyone who reads my miscellaneous ramblings. Hopefully there will be many more to come. I think my goal is to force myself to write 2 days a week, like Tuesday and Thursday. We’ll see.

-Chris)

Spring 2015 Honey Bee Update

I haven’t been writing much this spring because I’ve been so busy with work. But I did want to update you on our bee hives. There’s been a lot going on, and not much of it has been good news.

First off, we knew we lost hive No. 1 this winter. The yellow jackets just devastated the hive in the fall and they couldn’t stand the sub-zero temperatures. So this spring we dumped in a new package of honey bees into the hive. Hive No. 1 is now doing great. We just put another deep box on that hive, and there is a lot of brood in the hive.

Hive No. 3 is doing fantastic as well. We’ve seen the queen both time we checked the hive this spring.

Hive No. 2 was the big disappointment this spring. The healthy, aggressive hive was fine all last year, and alive and well at the end of winter. Then devastatingly the hive just collapsed. We have no idea what happened, but the hive was a complete loss.

It’s too late to get a package of bees for No. 2 so we may pick up a swarm or split hive No. 3 this summer. We’ll likely take a class on that very topic later this month.

Meanwhile back at home I spent a few days harvesting and melting bees-wax. Since many of our frames were from dead hives I stripped the frames and melted the wax. The main take away here is that it’s not worth melting down really “dirty” wax; wax that’s been on the frame for years. There’s just too much dirt, and it’s a mess to try to filter it all out.

As for hive No. 2, and some of the frames from No. 1, there was some honey and pollen. I didn’t harvest any of it because it was hard to tell what had been sitting around and if any of it was any good. I guess if you want to really give it to your bees, you should freeze the frames. I harvested the wax, and left the pollen and honey for the bees to clean  up. Some of the deep frames found their way into the reinstated hive No. 1. The shallow frames will all be stripped soon, and then can be rebuilt by the hives later this year.

The loss of two hives is a major setback. It means no honey for us really this year, except maybe from hive No. 3. The loss of hive No. 1 was to be expected. The loss of the second hive was like an unexpected fist to the gut. It’s difficult to not get emotionally involved and then to suffer this big a setback, it hurts. But nothing is easy, at around here it’s not. While I’ll never get used to it, I know how to handle it. Just have to keep checking on the bees (and plants, and house, and god knows whatever else goes amiss around here). Keep doing what we do and hope for the best.

The bee hives in early spring before we installed the new hive No. 1 bees, and hive No. 2 was still alive.

The bee hives in early spring before we installed the new hive No. 1 bees, and hive No. 2 was still alive.

New Plantings – Spring 2015

This spring we planted some new things in the yard. We planted a 5′ tall red oak for Earth Day / Arbor Day. This oak is the compliment to a red oak we planted last year, both of which form a “gate” from the apple orchard to the pond trail.

It’s been almost a month since we planted this little red oak, and he was doing so well up until a week or two ago when I noticed something amiss. It’s uncanny the relationship I’ve formed with the plants in our yard. I could tell from far away that something was wrong. Don’t ask me how I could tell, but sure enough upon closer inspection I noticed that a damn deer had stripped ALL the leaves off of the tree!

With great anger I grabbed a wire tree fence from my storage pile nearby and surrounded the baby tree in wire.

Now weeks later, new leaves are forming so it looks like our new little tree will make it.

The other major new plantings are three lilac bushes we picked up at Home Depot. I planted them over by the septic tank. As they grow up they’ll obscure the unsightly tank tops that stick out of the ground. And hopefully the flowers will mask any smells from the tank in early spring.

I need to find two other types of fragrant bushes to plant in the area, that can mask any smells in summer and fall.

The only down side of the lilacs is, they made my into a hypocrite. You see, the plants we bought were treated with neonicotinoids. Fortunately now Home Depot labels plants that have been genetically modified with these chemicals. While the EPA approves of them, these chemicals are banned in Europe. It’s suspected that they contribute to the decline in honey bee populations and may even cause colony collapse disorder.

Well I didn’t see the labels until I had already planted the plants in the ground.

I decided to keep the plants. The chemicals should only last 2 years in the plants. When planted, they were done blooming. So that just means next spring will be the only exposure to our bees (and other pollinators). I’ve weighed the risks, and made my decision. If you can’t be good, at least know you’re not being good. I think historically people didn’t even realize they were doing harm to the environment. Now at least there are ways to know.

Maybe I can make it up to my bees by some other means.

Yard Work

Spring is quickly growing on me. Being holed up inside during a long, cold winter eroded my will to live. Now temperatures are warming up, and the yard is turning green. It feels good to get outside, even if it is to do chores. Late Sunday morning we, as a family, drove up to Lowe’s to get a couple of shelves for the upstairs studio. While there, I wanted to pick up 12×12 inch pavers in an impromptu attempt at domestic vanity. I saw this picture, in my ‘Free-Range Chicken Gardens’ by Jessi Bloom book:

Check out the pavers in the grass at the bottom of this groovy backyard. I thought this would look good in the transition area by the front door. (Photo from Jessi Bloom's awesome

Check out the pavers in the grass at the bottom of this groovy backyard. I thought this would look good in the transition area by the front door.
(Photo from Jessi Bloom’s awesome “Free-Range Chicken Gardens” book.

We have a grassy section between the driveway and the breezeway that gets so much traffic that the grass doesn’t really grow there. Well what if I inset pavers in that section, leaving grass between the pavers?  So we bought eighteen pavers, nine for each end of the walkway. I laid them out like this next photo. Looks like instead of my OCD pattern of 3 across, 3 down, it’ll be more like 3 across, 4 down.

The grassy section closest to the house.

The grassy section closest to the house.

The grassy section  over by the garage.

The grassy section over by the garage.

Maybe by the garage I’ll go 2 across, 4 down (second picture above shows 3 by 3). What do you think? My thought was the formal geometric look of the cement pavers would be a nice contrast to the pea gravel in the driveway and the flagstone walkway under the breezeway. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Also at Lowe’s we picked up our Earth Day tree, or was it Arbor Day tree? Well whatever, we bought a little $26 red oak tree.

We were going to get cherry trees too, on a whim, but then I weirded out about neonicotinoid insecticide so we nixed it until I can learn more. As an aside, today I actually did a little more research. My thought was that plants at mass retailers, and our local mass nursery would have “neonics” in them. As I’ve said before, neonics are a form of insecticide that is either sprayed onto plants, or more commonly introduced through the roots of the plants via specially treated water that is provided to the plants. I believe there are also seeds that are genetically modified to have neonics inside them already. However they get in or on the plant, the problem occurs when neonics get into the plant’s pollen, then honey bees take it back to the hive, the chemicals accumulate in the hive and it’s theorized that this can cause colony collapse disorder. Lowe’s doesn’t label their plants so I didn’t know what I was buying. I could only assume the worst, thus no cherry trees.

Today I called a local one location family nursery, figuring they had chemical free plants. Well they didn’t even know what I was talking about. The greenhouse they referred me to kind of knew what I was talking about, but they sounded really defensive, and kinda made me out to be a bleeding heart tree hugger.

Shocking.

I did read online and found a few good sites, canted towards the Pacific northwest, that had some good information. One site listed nurseries up there that don’t treat their plants with neonics. And another said neonics remain in the plant for up to two years.

An interesting link on the topic: North Coast Gardening

My decision is this: I’m going to visit Home Depot, because supposedly they now label all genetically modified plants. If I can’t find what I want there, I will buy from Lowe’s or the local big box nursery chain, assuming their plants are toxic; and hope that in the two years that the chemicals linger, our bees won’t die off. After the two years we should be in the clear.

Our tiny oak tree ready for planting on Tuesday.

Our tiny oak tree ready for planting on Tuesday.

Speaking of bees, last week I started harvesting bees wax. With hive No.1 dying over the winter, we have several boxes worth of lifeless frames, containing bees wax. I watched a couple of videos on YouTube to figure out what I was doing. I scraped all the frames. A few had pollen and honey. Not enough honey to harvest though. So I left the honey and pollen on the frames. I’m going to deposit the frames back into hive No. 1 when our new bees arrive. I’ll leave it up to them to decide what to do with it all. They’ll also finish cleaning up the frames I pulled the wax off of.

Back to yard work. I cut the grass for the first time this year, and we spent a warm sunny Sunday afternoon weeding the front path and bed. It felt great to be outside cleaning up the path and bed. Down on hands and knees pulling “weeds”, reconnected with the earth. A fun ritual of ours took place during a break. The wife and I walked the yard talking about plans for the new year, and we inspected all the plants and trees we’ve planted in the past to see if they’re budding yet. Generally looking to see how everyone is doing. And they all look good, except one redbud tree looks like it may have died. It and another redbud both have anthills at their base. So maybe that caused its death. Ants are our antagonists it seems.

Tomorrow we will go pick up our replacement package of bees. I’ll share pictures and a review tomorrow night hopefully.

Look at this awesome edge I made!

Look at this awesome edge I made!

The front path is looking good again.

The front path is looking good again.

The front path with another awesome grass edge I made.

The front path with another awesome grass edge I made.

Spring Happenings

Spring has sprung. Everything is greening up and the temperatures are warmer.

I haven’t been very inspired to write lately. The drudgery of life is all consuming. When I do eek out a moment of free time I’ve been glancing at a few new books. See the pictures for what I got. All three of them are pretty good.

Not much else is going on. Here are a variety of pics for today.