Friday, September 30, 2011

Deformed wings

We were out back with our son a couple days ago, looking at the pumpkins and bees, when Marbles, our white cat, who is always tagging along outside, tore off suddenly and then stopped under the willow tree, biting at his paw.  Grant said "I think he just got stung."  Then he noticed there were a number of bees walking around on the ground.  On closer examination, we could see that most had stunted, torn or missing wings.  Bad news.

I had been planning to treat them this fall after the harvest, but due to some traveling, harvesting and wine making and just plain procrastination, I hadn't done it yet.  Although it was threatening to rain soon, I suited up right away and did an application of the miticide Hopguard, which I purchased at the Mann Lake shop earlier this summer when we were in that area fishing.   I put two strips on each of 3 brood boxes.  I check my pull-out board in the back of the bottom board each time I examine the hives and it was my general feeling that mite populations were not excessive. I see I need to be much more precise in my measurement in the future.  There clearly is a problem in at least one of the hives.

I also see that the wax moths are back and active.  We found worms, moths and their messy trails on the pull-out tray.  I cleaned them out of the bottom of the bottom board structure and plan to check that every few days to make sure they aren't in there building again.  Last spring I did see evidence of some worm damage in a frame in the bottom super (a hole chewed all the way through the top of one frame).  I may have to investigate some chemical treatment though I'd prefer to just try to physically remove any that I see and add some sticky paper to catch them.
Update: (Oct. 5)  We opened the hives yesterday.  The sickly sweet odor that the wax moths produce was so strong that we felt, like last year, we needed to go into the hives and take a look around.  The odor yesterday was not as strong as it had been the previous several days, and we found no evidence of any moth activity within the hive.  We found strong hives, with larva and capped brood.  The bees had been working over the strips of Hopguard.  I now feel all the detritus on the bottom tray is a result of the bees chewing up the chemical strips rather than wax worms chewing through the frames.  I'll keep up monitoring the bottom trays but feel much better now about the worm situation.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Harvest 2011

We knew it was going to be a better harvest than last year.  We bottled two gallons in 2010 from 7 frames.  This year, we had just over 3 gallons from 10 frames.  They were really gorgeous frames this year, very full and heavy.
Of the 10 frames, 4 were frames I had prepared with a starter strip, so the bees drew out the comb in the frame.  We wanted to try some comb honey, and we ended up with a nice supply for our friends and relatives who would like to try honey is this form.  Below, you see Kathy holding one of the frames of comb honey.  It worked well, except these 4 frames had to be cut apart since the bees had built according to their blueprints, not ours.  Still, we recovered some very nice comb honey to cut into squares.  What didn't survive went into the mix with the regular honey.
Kathy used an electric knife this time to uncap the cells.  She liked the way it worked, though she might try reversing the knife blades next year since it really does help the cappings fall off if you cut from bottom to top.

The old A.I. Root Co. extractor worked well again.  Thanks again to our friends, the Petersons, Jim and Beth, for letting us use this.  The JB Weld work I did on the pouring valve worked well and created a good seal, since a crack along the original weld had developed.
It has a 1:4 turn ratio, and will keep spinning fast for some time after you let go of the handle.  I spin 50 cranks one direction, rotate the two baskets of frames, then crank again 50 spins.
It was a cool day, only about 70 degrees, so I had to use an electric heater to get the honey to flow down the sides of the extractor after we were finished and used a rubber scraper to get as much off the sides as possible.
We still may get some honey, though if last year is an indication there won't be much of an autumn honey flow.  I will likely just save out the frames for feeding late fall and in the spring.
A square of our comb honey
One final note:  this year, we left the bee escape I made last season on for 48 hours and it really made a difference.  There was a grand total of 5 bees still in that honey super.  I was happy to see that work better this year.

Friday, September 2, 2011


     Kathy planted buckwheat in one area of her garden.  She did this for two reasons:  to provide a cover to keep weeds out of an area she currently wasn't planting and to till the buckwheat under before it went to seed to help replenish nutrients in the soil.  She tilled it in once already, and this is a second growth.
    It's really quite a lovely cover plant, full of blossoms.  She had planned to till this in again until we noticed how many of our honey bees are on it.  We have about 3 acres of land, with many plants growing and blossoming, including prairie plots, the vegetable garden, orchard--but never have we seen the bees take to any of our plants like they have to the buckwheat.  There are hundreds on this little plot.
     Buckwheat is known to produce a dark, almost black honey that has, according to World of,  a  "pleasant hay-like, earthy smell, and an unforgettable malty, rich, molasses flavor which is not over-sweet."  Additionally, there are a number of purported medicinal benefits of buckwheat honey, some of which  are described on that web site.
     At any rate, given the fact that the bees really seem to love it, we plan to put a section out by the back prairie into buckwheat next year.  Since it is a low-growth plant, we probably will stick our pumpkin plants out in the middle of it and let them spread there.  We had little late season honey flow last year and perhaps this will help boost that a bit. I don't think we can plant enough to make a big difference, but it's fun to see them working on it, anyway.