March 31, 2016

Queen Check

Yesterday afternoon I opened Periwinkle and Daylily hives to check on the status of the queens. The weather was warm and mostly sunny, and the bees have been here four days; I needed to see if the queens had been released and remove their cages if that was the case.

First I checked on Periwinkle. You can't tell in the above photo, but the bees are building comb along the top bars; something that Warré beekeepers are always happy to see.  The queen, however, had not yet been released. 

The bees had eaten through the candy and she should have been able to exit the box, except for this.

Two of the attendant bees were dead and one was blocking the entrance. I tried to gently move it out of the way with no success, so I decided to remove the cork from the other end. After I did that I took another look, but the queen was gone. Now I was concerned because I didn't want her lost or squished!

Thankfully I saw her dotted back disappearing under the top bars below, but then I was worried I might kill her when I put the top box on again. The only thing I knew to do was to puff a lot of smoke into the bottom box and then slowly side the top box in place. I reassembled the rest of the hive and then wondered whether or not I still had a queen. As I stood there pondering, the hum in the hive began to crescendo loudly, which I'm hoping means they were welcoming their queen! I'll keep an eye on pollen coming in, which will indicate they are busy feeding brood.

Daylily was busy too.

They are also building comb along the top bars and seem to be a little further along than Periwinkle. I have to say that in general, I see more activity around Daylily than Periwinkle.

The Daylily bees had eaten through the candy on their queen cage too, but she had yet to emerge. No dead attendants, so I just put the cage back for another day or two.

It was interesting that with both hives, I used my bee brush to clear the way for the feeder to be replaced. Periwinkle was very docile about the whole thing, but Daylily did not like it! Is it hive personality? Or did the status of the queen make a difference?

The last thing I did was dismiss my snoopervisor.

He was about worthless anyway.

March 28, 2016

Honeybees! (Here at Last)

After one week's delay, bee day finally arrived: overcast, cool, and lightly rainy. This time, I called ahead to make sure they were ready for pick up. I brought two packages home.

Last year I was excited and nervous, so I didn't try to take photos. In fact, I had to take a card and write out all the steps for hiving the bees. This year I was just excited. I mentally rehearsed the steps and got everything ready, including my camera.

The first step is to pry off the cover of the bee package.

A hive tool comes in handy for many things.

Under the cover is the syrup can. The next step is to pull it out.

Being heavy, it's a little awkward to grab the rim and remove. The white packing strap holds the queen cage in place (unlike last year).

The queen cage is pulled out and inspected to make sure the queen is alive. She is bigger than her attendant bees and marked with a white dot on her back. The color of the dots changes every year so the beekeeper knows how old his or her queen is.

She's in there, alive and hopefully well.

In the above photo you can see that the queen's box has three round chambers. There is a cork plug at each end. The chamber on the left contains sugar candy. The cork on that end is removed.

The bees will eat through the candy to release the queen. This is referred to as an indirect release, as opposed to a direct release. Direct release means the beekeeper releases the queen rather than letting the bees do it. Direct release is not considered the safest way unless the bees are accustomed to that particular queen. If she's in any way unfamiliar to them, they will kill her.

There are different methods for hiving the bees, so what I'm going to show you is not the only way. For those who may not visit my blog often or may not remember, my hives are top bar Warré beehives. (Details here.) To receive the bees, each hive is set up with two boxes like you saw in the first photo. The queen cage is placed on the top bars of the bottom hive box.

Next the bees are dumped rather unceremoniously out of the package and into the hive on top of the queen.

Some folks make room for the package inside the hive, but if I did that I'd have to go back in and remove it. I'd rather not disturb my bees any more than I have to; let's just have one big brouhaha rather than two smaller ones. I will have to remove the queen cage in the near future, but that will be less of a disturbance.

After the majority of the bees are dumped in, the top bars of the top box are put in place.

The feeder comes next, taking care not to squash any bees while putting it on. I used my bee brush to brush away any bees that were in the way and then slid the feeder slowly into place.

I am using 1:1 sugar syrup (by weight) with homemade Honey-B-Healthy
This year I made my HBH with powdered lecithin instead of liquid lecithin.
I think the essential oils blended with the sugar water much more quickly.
The trick is to let the powder soak about an hour before blending in the oils.

The above photo was actually taken the next day when I topped off the feeder. Last year the feeder was open when I put it on and I had a number of bees fly into the syrup and drown. This year I kept it covered with a piece of plywood, sliding the plywood off as I slid on the quilt.

The quilt is a simple box with a burlap bottom. It is filled with an
absorbent material to insulate and absorb excess moisture in the hive.

Lastly I put on the roof. The package still had quite a few bees inside, so I laid it near the hive entrance. By nightfall they found their way into the hive.

So here they are. May I present

Daylily Hive


Periwinkle Hive

The last thing I did was to put a welded wire skunk guard around each of the hives. I'll have more on that in an upcoming post, along with other precautions I'm taking to keep my bees safe.

I placed a strip of wood in each entrance to make them smaller at first. The bees have a lot to do to get established, so having a smaller opening will make it easier to defend the hive against potential invaders.

Honeybees make me so happy. 

Next - Queen Check

March 26, 2016

Sour Cream Or Crème Fraîche?

Well now, here's something interesting. I've been working on another of my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos, this one being about getting cream from goat milk and what to do with it. Of course I research everything extensively, wanting to make sure buyers get their 99¢ worth, ;)

I was looking into sour cream and crème fraîche. Although crème fraîche is sometimes referred to as "European Style Sour Cream," technically these products aren't the same. Sour cream is actually soured (lacto-fermented), while crème fraîche is merely cultured enough to thicken without souring. So I was sitting there, comparing about a dozen internet how-to-make recipes for the two products, and you know what? With the exception of one, the various DIY recipes for each of these two products are exactly the same.

Now, Kurt Timmermeister, author of Growing a Farmer, makes an interesting statement about crème fraîche in his chapter entitled "Raw Milk."
"By morning, part of the cream was at the top; by the next day, even more; and by the third day it had all settled on the top. The result of three days of cream rising to the top of five gallons of Jersey milk after slowly cooling after many hours was the most exceptional cream imaginable. It was crème fraîche."
Well, my goat cream does that too.

Naturally thickened goat cream. I probably don't chill my milk fast enough
to satisfy the milk police, but it turns out I'm making my own crème fraîche!

Maybe I've got something going on that I didn't even know about.

So, sour cream or crème fraîche? Make it how you want and call it what you will, I doubt any of the folks enjoying your delicious recipes will notice or care. They will simply enjoy.

How about that?

March 23, 2016

A Taste of Honey

 “There's no great loss without some small gain.” If you've read Laura Ingalls Wilder's, Little House on the Prairie series, then you're likely familiar with that phrase. The loss of Honeysuckle Hive was a great loss, but we did gain a small amount of honey.

There weren't many filled combs, but enough to harvest for a sample.

Because I want some of the wax as well as the honey, I planned to use the crush and strain method. Last year I bought a bucket strainer system from BeeThinking, because I can use it to strain and store honey. I like it because it includes a honey gate for quick filling of honey containers. It holds 3.5 gallons, however, which I was nowhere close to having. I did use the two straining bags supplied with it, but rigged up my own straining system.

My strainer fits perfectly inside the pie ring which fits perfectly over
the pot. Two of these were just right for the amount of comb I had.

The mesh straining bag folded over the pot and held half my comb.  I
used a wooden potato masher to crush the comb & let the honey flow.

Gravity and warmth are what drains the honey. Honey becomes more viscous as temperatures drop, so a warm kitchen means better drainage into the pot.

How long? A lot of folks seem to leave it only overnight. On one bee forum I read of someone who let it drain for a week. I stirred the crushed comb to check on the honey, and let it sit five days, until most of the honey had drained from the bottom of the mesh bag.

How much?

My yield was six pints. Isn't it pretty?

The comb is then washed, dried, and stored (usually in the freezer) until enough is collected to render. One tip I got over at HoneyBeeSuite was to strain and save that first comb wash water and use it in cooking. I did just that.

Of course, no harvest is complete without some feasting.

Homegrown honey on homemade biscuits.

Because I only strained it, it still contains the pollen and would be considered raw honey. For those interested in some honey processing terms, here they are:

Strained honey - has been poured through a mesh strainer to remove wax and debris
Filtered honey - has been run through a fine filter to remove pollen
Raw honey - not heat treated, not filtered
Pasteurized honey - heat treated to kill yeasts and bacteria (even though honey has known antibacterial effects)

Here's hoping the new hives do better.

March 21, 2016

Honeybee Delivery Postponed

My bee garden, ready and waiting

I spent most of last week getting my new hives ready for the arrival of the new bees. On Friday morning I set everything up. Poor Honeysuckle (taller hive in the middle) was only there for the photo, to remind me of what I hope my apiary looks like someday soon. It's not as pristine as the newly painted hives, but the paint is still good so it got a good scrubbing and sunning. I plan to hoist it up a tree to use as a swarm bait hive (yeah, right).

Of course my preparations had proper snoopervision.

Riley woke up occasionally to observe my progress.

Saturday was pick-up day, but when I showed up for my bees I was told delivery had been postponed until next Saturday. Somehow I didn't get the email. sigh

I confess to being just a tad disappointed (a big tad) because everything is starting to bloom. That's a week my bees will miss! Oh well.

March 19, 2016

The Garden in Early Spring: A Picture Post

These mild days have infected me with the planting bug. Our last frost is typically mid-April, so I have to make sure I don't jump the gun. But it's a good time to tend to the remnants of the winter garden and plant more cool weather veggies for early summer eating.

Horrific winds in late February blew the cover off the hoop house. I managed to save it before it either blew away or blew to shreds. Since our nighttime temps have only dipped down to freezing since then, I haven't put the cover back on.

What's growing in there?

This bed supplied us with arugula all winter. I've left a few plants to go
to seed. The rest of the bed has been planted with New Zealand spinach.

The cabbages are finally making proper heads. Mostly I've been
 harvesting outer leaves for salads & to feed the goats & pigs.

In between the arugula & cabbage beds, I've planted more lettuce. My
problem is that the cats seem to think they are custom made litter boxes.

Lettuce and radishes planted early in winter and ready to eat. I'll plant
more radishes in the bare row & mulch the rest. Daffodil is a volunteer.

These are kale and Swiss Chard plants that I transplanted last
fall. They too have been providing leaves for salads and goats.

The spinach bed has provided wonderful salads.

This huge pot contains miners lettuce or claytonia. I probably should
have planted it earlier. It's supposed to be a good cold  weather provider. 

Outside the hoop house -

My cabbage-collards are beginning to form heads. I wish I had a
bunch more of these but we had poor germination last fall.

I've started harvesting the remainder of the winter root crops.

Carrots were first, leaving the garlic to finish maturing.

My root veggies are starting to grow root hairs, which indicates an impending growth spurt. When that happens the roots aren't so good to eat. So over the next several days I'm harvesting carrots, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, and parsnips.

Turnips are next.

Summer plans? I'm thinking to get some shade cloth for the hoop house to extend my lettuce harvest. Also I'd like to put up cattle panels for another hoop house and use that as a trellis this summer. Next fall we can plant it with more cool weather crops.

Who else is itching to get their fingers in the dirt? Planting season can't get here fast enough.

March 17, 2016

Duck Eggs!

Our first! The ducks have picked out a corner in the goatie girls' shed and created a little nest there. The other day two of the ducks were standing by it, discussing something.

Shared nest? Seems a precarious spot, doesn't it? However, I find
chicken eggs in the goat shed all the time - in the hay feeder or randomly
laid on the floor. Amazingly, the goats haven't stepped on an egg yet!

I took a peek and found those two eggs. The next day I found two more. Yesterday I found three.

How do they look compared to chicken eggs?

Muscovy eggs on the left, Black Australorp eggs on the right.

They are larger than our 'Lorp eggs, which are a nice large chicken-egg size.

How do they taste?

Excellent! I might even like them better than chicken eggs.

The ducks had abandoned the chicken coop as sleeping quarters awhile back because Mr. Rooster kept chasing them out. They still make several daily trips to visit the feeder in the coop when he isn't around.

Now I need to get serious about finding another drake so that if one of the ladies is so inclined, she can raise a batch of ducklings.

March 14, 2016

The Death of Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle Hive
Photo taken last spring.
Oh my, this is sad news to report. Since my "Preparing for Bee Day" post, I've discovered that Honeysuckle Hive didn't make it. Our winter has bounced from cold to mild temperatures, so sometimes I've seen the bees out, as I reported on February 7th. Bees are inactive until perhaps the mid- to upper-50s F (lower- to mid-teens C), so when we recently got a few days around 70°F (21°C) I started looking for activity. Except for a random bee, not much was happening.

That concerned me so I had to investigate further. The first thing I did was to pull out the bottom board that came with my screen bottom. I found about half a dozen dead Small Hive Beetles on it. I was not happy to see that. Next, I removed the cover to the observation window in the bottom hive box.

Shot through the window so not a good photo.

Dead bees - definitely not a good sign. I went inside, suited up, and lit my smoker in hopes I'd need it. When I removed the roof and quilt, one lone bee flew up and out the top. Was there life in there? I looked down inside, but except for a few dead bees on the combs, the hive was vacant. Everybody was gone. I disassembled the hive.

Top box on the right. The comb on the right broke when I removed the box.

I found comb in the top two boxes, the bottom two were empty. The comb was perfectly aligned with the top bars, and only one was attached to the bars below.

Broken by yours truly when I removed it from the box.

There was some capped honey, and while the box was full of comb, quite a bit of it was empty. In the bottom box there was one small patch of capped honey. I found pollen cells, but no brood (which I wouldn't have found in the winter anyway(?)), also two or three more dead Small Hive Beetles.

Here are more photos for clues as to what happened.

Dead bees with their heads stuck in empty cells is said to be an indication
 of starvation. Of the dozen or so bees, I found only a few like that.

This was the only capped comb in the bottom hive box.

 I found evidence of wax moths in about half a dozen
places, although most of the comb was untouched.

Now I wonder if the bees I saw out last month weren't foraging because they were getting ready to move, even though I never saw them swarm. If they did, it certainly wasn't because they were overcrowded. Was it the wax moths? The Small Hive Beetles? Varroa? And what does all that darkened comb mean? Since I'm still very much a novice beekeeper and this is my first hive, I can only make observations and turn to research and the experience of others to try to make sense of the clues.

As an aside, this comb interested me...

The larger cells would be drone cells, built for hatching drone, which are larger than worker bees. I found them only on this one comb in the lower box. The smaller cells are of particular interest to me, because my bees were raised on standard foundation comb, which is imprinted with the larger cell size. Without that larger cell pattern to follow, they naturally made smaller cells. There is a lot of controversy over cell size because of the claim that smaller cells are not attractive to varroa mites. I am not inclined to be drawn into that conversation, but if you're interested, you'll find it all and then-some at

So, in the time-honored tradition of silver linings and counting my blessings, I can at least be thankful that we will get a little bit of honey to enjoy. I have to say though, that looking out my kitchen and dining room windows and seeing no Honeysuckle Hive makes me very sad indeed.

New bees arrive next Saturday, so at least there is that.