Tag Archives: queen bee

Growing Things on the Farm

My, oh my, has it been a while. I swear it is for good reason. For the last 19 weeks I have been growing a human. Within the first few weeks exhaustion hit and all motivation went out the window. What little energy I had went to working my regular 45+ hours a week and the rest  to any little help I could be at the property with barn building, house building preparations, chicken and bee tending, garden growing, and entertaining any people that stopped through town to visit this amazing region we call home. I had also just started the adventure of making soap in hopes to create a new business venture. My ultimate goal was to get enough made for Christmas season. Unfortunately, the last batch I made, and Almond Poppy Seed soap, which everyone tells me smells amazing, makes me want to gag even thinking about it. Not the best way to run a business. Luckily the energy is slowly coming back and the nose, while still in supersonic working condition, isn’t quite as repelled by a lot of smells (although as I write this I keep getting whiffs of some perfumey scent from down the hall that is making my nose burn and stomach churn slightly).

First batches of soap.

First batches of soap.

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But enough with the complaining! There has been a lot of things happening at Stout Grove since July. The biggest, and most recent development (besides getting pregnant) is that we finally have started to build our house! Hopefully by the end of the winter we will no longer have to call Stout Grove “The Property” but instead can call it “Home”. With the exception of the looming mortgage in our future, this has been such a huge relief to have it finally under way. It is amazing how quickly a small crew of experienced people can build walls and get a structure built!

We have a house!!

We have a house!!

We have lost our queen bee, which is not to say a bad thing necessarily. We had been debating if it would be best to get rid of her and buy a new queen bee since she was not doing a very good job making the rest of the hive work hard and get enough food stores for the winter. There are 2 main schools of thought on this matter: One of, pinch her head off and get rid of her! The other being that the bees know what is best for them. If the queen isn’t performing they will eventually realize and get rid of her themselves and “grow” a new queen. Out of lack of knowing which was the best route, and sheer forgetfulness, the bees took care of the situation for us. What exactly happened is still a mystery to us however. It sort of appears that the old queen died and then the worker bees built an Emergency Queen Cell to quickly replace her (More information about this in a later post – I don’t want to get too rambly right now).

New Queen Bee cell.

New Queen Bee cell.

The vegetable garden has slowly dwindled down, although we still have some carrots and potatoes in the ground waiting to be picked. Since this is the first year the garden has been in this location and the soil has not been amended at all, and since we don’t currently live there and are busy as heck, we started this season knowing that the garden probably wouldn’t perform optimally. In some aspects we were wrong, but it others, we were dead on. After a heavy rain storm in mid-July all of our tomatoes got what appeared to be late blight. Within 3 days they were deader than dead, all the fruit rotting off the vine and pretty much unsalvageable. From everyone else that we talked to in the area, this was a common occurrence. Our beans also got bean beetles, a creature I never knew existed until they were covering our plants with their unique pointy larva. The corn we planted never got very tall. When we finally checked some of the ears to see how they were doing on their miniature stalks, we noticed that the kernels were way too large to be tasty. Apparently all the energy that wasn’t going into stalk growth was going into ear growth and we never realized it until it was too late. Yet another lesson learned. On a positive note, our okra went wild. I had never grown okra before and had no idea that their production and growth was so high. There is a lot of frozen okra in our freezer for the winter. Our potatoes did pretty well too. We definitely don’t have enough for the whole winter but for the next few months we will be enjoying good, homegrown taters with our meals. The squash also went crazy. I don’t know how many spaghetti squash we have. More than enough, that is for sure. The pumpkins didn’t produce a ton, but we will have enough for a good number of tasty desserts, that is for sure. Overall we are pretty pleased with the garden this year. We wish that we could have devoted a little more time to it and not ignored it as much as we did, but there is next year. It will be hard to ignore when it is steps from our front door.

Bountiful harvest!

Bountiful harvest!

Another exciting thing to happen over the last few months is that our chicks are now chickens and laying eggs. The months of feeding them with no return on investment is done. Now we are swimming in eggs and giving them to anyone who wants them. Out of the original 17 chicks we got, 1 died in the first week, we gave 4 to a friend, 1 ended up being a rooster, and the other day another unexpectedly passed away. So all in all, there are 10 laying hens producing eggs of all different sizes, shapes and colors. We will no longer have to buy eggs from the store and are one step closer to self-sufficiency.

Different size chickens lay different size eggs; its a fact!

Different size chickens lay different size eggs; its a fact!

Double yolk!

Double yolk!

So for now, the garden has slowed down, the bees are hunkering down for the winter and the chickens are laying eggs like crazy. Winter has finally made an appearance this last week with a fresh cover of snow and daylight savings time has turned our day-lit work days a little shorter. Life is good. I can’t really say that it has slowed down to a standstill, but there is definitely more time spent relaxing on the couch at night when it is too dark and cold to be working outside, and I am not complaining about that. However, the addition of electricity and a wood burning stove to the barn has been a tremendous help in getting last minute projects done when we can. In the meantime, I will let my husband pick up my slack while I keep busy growing a child and helping here and there where I can. . . . and I promise to not be such a stranger again.

 

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Operation Bee Move: Success

Have you ever had that moment when you feel like you have failed as a parent or pet owner? Not necessarily something huge like you forgot to pick your kid up from soccer practice and finally remembered 3 days later, or you strapped your pet carrier on the top of your car while on a cross country trip. I mean more like, “Holy crap, that could have been bad…” That’s how I felt a few weeks ago. After we had set up our bees and they were happily buzzing around pollinating plants and building their honeycomb, we got a huge freak storm. For over an hour it POURED rain, hail and all. The small creek that cuts through our property jumped its banks and rose close to 4 feet. Our driveway was underwater, as was most of the front field – this front field, where our precious (and expensive) bees resided.

Two bee hives nearly flooded.

Two bee hives nearly flooded.

View of our two hives almost swimming in the creek.

View of our two hives almost swimming in the creek.

By the time the rain stopped and we went to investigate the damage of the storm, we found, to our horror, that the creek was 6” from the bottom of our bee boxes! Luckily the creek subsided as time went on and they stayed dry. When the water went down enough for us to get over to them, they were still flying in and out; they hadn’t bailed ship thankfully.  The metal tops of the boxes were riddled with dents from the hail, but that was the extent of the lasting damage. We needed to move those bees ASAP. However, our neighbors who own the other bee box were on vacation for a few days and we needed to wait until came back so we could have some extra hands. And of course, more rain was in the forecast. Two days after the flash flood they were calling for another inch of rain to add to our already saturated ground. I spent the entire day at work worried our bees were being swept downstream. But they weren’t. The creek went up again, but nothing like during the flash flood.

Dents on the hive cover from the hail.

Dents on the hive cover from the hail.

A few days later our neighbors were back, and our other neighbor, who was planning on getting a third set of bees for The Compound bee colony, had finally received his bees in the mail. Perfect timing and excuse to get the other hives moved and set up before adding an additional hive. We all decided on another location behind the blueberry patch, on higher ground and still out of the way. Since all together we only have three bee suits for the five members of The Compound, the boys geared up and went to retrieve our bees from the other side of the creek. The scariest part of the whole ordeal wasn’t that they were carrying a large board with two bee boxes perched on top while bees angrily and confusedly flew all around them; it was when they had to cross the creek which had super muddy banks (especially after all the rain) and a steep drop off into the water. Who was going to slip and eat it while carrying all those bees? No one. Thank God.

The boys are gearing up for the move. Notice there is no standing water anymore.

The boys are gearing up for the move. Notice there is no standing water anymore.

Nearing the treacherous creek crossing.

Nearing the treacherous creek crossing.

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The bees new home.

The bees new home.

After the boxes were set in their new homes, Scott went to start setting up his new hive while my husband and Donnie went into the two original hives to check on them. Since the time we had made sure the queen bee was out of her box, we hadn’t gone into the hives at all to check on them. We wanted to give them some time and space, and let the queen start putting those other bees to work while she laid her eggs. In one of the hives we found the queen bee right away; we never came across her in the second hive. There were a few frames in each hive filled up with pollen and honey comb; not as many as we were hoping to see. Since all the bees were flying around and already stressed from their move, we didn’t want to poke around too much, but from what we saw, there weren’t many, if any, eggs laid yet. This weekend we will go back in and check on them again.

Third set of bees ready to be inserted into their new hive.

Third set of bees ready to be inserted into their new hive.

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Queen Bee! She is located near the center top of the frame.

Queen Bee! She is located near the center top of the frame.

So far the bees seem to like their new home. I am not sure if we lost any due to the move. After they were all moved and we closed the boxes back up, my husband and Scott went back to their original location and found a decent sized swarm of bees flying around the old location. We are guessing they are bees that were out foraging when we moved them and didn’t know where to go. The guys found that if they stood there for a few minutes, the bees would land on them and then they could slowly walked them over to their new location (on one of the trips Scott did slip on the muddy bank…better then and not while carrying the hives 🙂  ). So now our bees are high and dry; more flowers are blooming for them to forage from, and hopefully the queen is making more bees to increase our healthy hives!

Bee butt getting some raspberry plant pollen.

Bee butt getting some raspberry plant pollen.

Queen Bee and Happy Hives   

It has been 1 week since our busy little bees got mailed to us and they seem to be quite happy in their new Mountain State home. In my last post I might have been a little too excited and over exaggerated saying there are 200,000 bees in our boxes. I didn’t mean to lead you all on, I was just so excited for out bees! I should have used a word more like “shmillion” which usually accompanies my over-exaggerations. Truth is, each of our hives started with about 10,000 bees when they were mailed to us (in the middle of each summer, when the bees are the busiest storing up pollen and honey for the winter months, the hives can have up to 80,000 bees in them). Can you blame me for being so excited though? I have wanted bees for a few years. In fact (I feel like such a little kid admitting this), my parents gave me some birthday cash last year and I have been saving it, sitting on my dresser, since last July waiting for the right time to buy some bees. I am pretty excited!

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Three days after we received our package of bees and set them in our hives, we went to double check that they queen bee got out of her special little box. When sets of bees get sent out to individuals starting a new hive, it’s not usually as simple as packing up a whole hive and calling it good. Bee suppliers split the hives they have into multiple packages and send those off giving them the biggest bang for their buck and allowing them to keep sets of bees themselves so they can continue to “harvest” them and make a business. But remember, a hive needs a queen, and you can’t split her. Instead they allow queen eggs to hatch and ship them off with one part of the split hive (a queen egg, or “cell”, is much larger than that of a drone or worker bee, making it easy to distinguish. Usually queen cells are picked off and not allowed to hatch since there can only be 1 queen per hive). Since this queen bee is different from the one the bees in the hive had before, she has to be kept separate until they get used to each other and can become a happy hive. It also helps ensure that she survives the stress of being shipped. When you get a package of bees, the queen (and usually a few helpers) is in a small, separate box with a small piece of sugar candy blocking her exit. This little box is placed inside the hive until she is set free by the bees (or the bee keeper in some instances). Over a few days’ time, while getting used to each other, this piece of candy is eaten away and then she is free!

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The Queen and her helper bees in their separate box.

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Taking the queen box out to check if she got out.

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Empty Queen box!!

When we went to make sure that the queen in each hive was released, we found in each hive an empty box with no queen. At this point some people take out each frame in the hive to double check that the queen is there. Inexperienced as we are, we felt it best to leave the bees alone and not stress them out while we would inevitably spend much too much time picking up each frame and poking around for the queen that our untrained eyes have yet to master finding. Instead we will go back in a few weeks to check on them and see if there is brood (baby bees) being laid. If there aren’t any, then we know the queen either did not survive or is a very weak queen. If this is the case we have to get a new queen ASAP, or risk the bees swarming (leaving their hive in search of a new home and queen).

Honey comb created over 3 days time around the area where the Queen box was.

Honey comb created over 3 days time around the area where the Queen box was.

Our first piece of honey comb, attached to the queen box.

Our first piece of honey comb!

But for now we will assume that the queens are in place and laying and expanding our hives while the busy worker bees keep building honey comb and collecting pollen.

200,000 bees in a box

Two of our three hives are installed and happily buzzing away.

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