Saturday, January 31, 2015

Raised beds and bringing the honey bee nucs home

Busy busy day yesterday moving the mulch pile and building 2 of 5'x10' raised beds for gardening.  Also moved those heavy earth box type plant containers out 2 feet so I could get between the fence and plants to prune, etc.  After building the raised beds they were lined with a 1" of newspaper hosed down.  Then a layer of leaves and finally a 1/2" layer of mulch.  Mulch was also added on the pathways around the raised beds.

Today was just as busy.  We drove a few hours north to a farm to get some premium compost and get a tour of their organic eco farm.  Quite interesting as they grow a lot of plant varieties that most people say is impossible for their climate.  We learned a lot and bought a few plants to take home as well as had the pickup truck bed completely loaded with compost as well as a small trailer we were pulling.

Next stop to visit a beekeeper about a half hour up the road to pick up a couple nucs which is like a small scale bee hive loaded with brood, a queen and a lot of bees.  In no time the brood will hatch and you'll have a full scale hive soon.  As the wife wanted no part of having the bees inside the truck, I dug out some space in the back of my truck bed to hold the nucs.  The nucs were pretty ragged with some holes we found out so it's a good thing they weren't in the truck with us.  Especially with the massive traffic jam we encountered on the way home.  At one point while the beekeeper was getting the nucs ready for travel, the bees seemed to get quite riled up.  Unfortunately I was standing there in a pair of shorts and tee shirt a tad uncomfortable with all the "agitated" bees new interest in me.  I finally dove into the truck to take cover. 

Once we got to the bee farm we unloaded the nucs and set them on top of the hives so the bees could orient themselves to the land.  Tomorrow morning the bees and frames will be transferred from the nucs into their new homes.  The beekeeper gave us a couple feeder jars filled with green margarita/lime mix which coincidentally is what we're going to have during tomorrow's Superbowl party.  So nice to already include the bees in our festivities.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rain barrel gutters and bees on the hives

After a lot of trying to figure out how to route the gutters on the shed to feed the rain barrels, I finally came up with a workable plan.  There's still a million details to work out but the gutters are up and ready to feed the four barrels.  First step though will be to link them all together.

In other news,  the new hives are set up and already receiving visitors.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ant proof Platform and painted hives

The hives are now all painted and ready for occupancy.  I had to move the one that the bees were attracted to yesterday so I could paint it.  And the bees were looking for it several times today, circling that area and checking out the other hives sitting out.  They were also seen flying around the swarm lure/trap.

Lowes sells a rubber coupler 1 1/4 - 1/12 to 2" which worked nicely as a grease cup for the 3/4" galvanized pipe.  Plastic pipe insulation was used as a gasket to make up for the difference between 3/4 and 1 1/4".  The radiator clamp it came with cinched it up nicely so grease will soon be added to the outside of the pipe and into the cup to repel the ants.  The only thing still needed is a little umbrella type barrier positioned a few inches over the grease trap to keep debris and water out.  That will be fabricated from thin gauge aluminum I have in the garage.

 The two things about the platform I didn't expect.  The pipes move in the concrete which makes them less secure.  I found that out screwing in the tee's while tightening them onto the pipes that are embedded in concrete.  Not a real big deal. 

The platform is 14' long which may be a little bit too long.  I can always cut it back.  The 3/4" galvanized pipe seemed plenty strong when I started this project but with everything loaded up on the platform there is a very small amount of play.  1" or slightly larger would have been better but this will probably work fine.

Another lesson learned that I thought I learned long ago was to never buy cheap paint.  I bought a couple more colors for the hives and around the farm but they were a cheaper paint that the top quality paint I've been using.  Big difference.  Two coats were needed for everything where the other paint would do it perfect in one coat.  Do you really save money?  I don't think so.

Paint looks nice though.  Not traditional beekeeping white hives but we like a bit of color in our lives.  And the bees being mostly gals probably will appreciate the pastels.
Painted hives resting on their new ant proof platform

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Visitors to the new hives

Today I loaded the truck up with the finished hives and took them out to the bee farm to paint.  Two of the deep boxes were loaded with frames that had wax foundation in them.  The primary task however was to build the ant proof platform and pour concrete around the footing to hold it firmly in place.  Lots to do.

Galvanized pipes ready to take the T Handles (laying on the concrete block)  once the concrete dries
After about an hour of working on the platform I had to get something out of my truck and noticed that I left the two deep hives with the wax foundation sitting on the passenger front seat.  The heat from the truck being closed up gave the wax a sweet aroma and made the truck smell nice.  Before it got too hot though I decided to take them out of the truck and placed them on a lounge chair outside.

Imagine my surprise about a half hour later when I looked in that direction and noticed 4-5 honey bees checking out the new hive.  So I immediately added the bottom board, base and top boards to make a complete hive for the visitors.  The visits continued for several hours and a couple of the bees actually went into the new unpainted hive.  Quite cool and it made my day.

14 foot hive platform with a little paint
The base was completed and while the concrete dried I painted the wooden platform that sits on it.  Also painted one of the unpainted hives before calling it a day.   

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ready for paint

The final batch of bases, bottom boards, supers, tops and telescoping tops are complete and have been sanded and cracks and imperfections filled and sanded again.  After painting, they will be open for business when we get some bees.   
A few people at the beekeepers group thought I was crazy when they heard I was starting out with 4-5 hives.  But it's not like I haven't worked around bees at all.  Besides the hive that was at our house last year, I've had the opportunity to work in the Tampa Beekeepers group bee yard a few times. 

How much harder could 4-5 be instead of 1-2 anyway?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Frames to construct

Last night the UPS guy showed up with 100 unassembled frames and 100 sheets of plastic waxed foundation.  Once I get some of the frames assembled, the two swarm lures I built can be baited and set outside.
Foundation (in the box) and some of the frame parts
The only challenge with making 100 frames (or at least half of them) is all the time required to glue, nail and square them up.  To do them individually would be a daunting task.  So off to my beloved youtube to see what types of jigs people have made to assemble their frames.

I finally settled on several different designs and modified them to use some of the scrap lumber I had laying around.  The end result worked wonderful and I was able to crank out the frames in no time.  Some of the designs I saw were for adjustable frame jigs that could be used for deep, medium or shallow supers.  Instead of an adjustable jib, I just made a little platform for it when making the deeps.  Mediums and shallows will work by just removing the platform.
Frame jig loaded with side pieces

After placing a half dozen frames and foundations in the traps/lures, some old brood honeycomb was added as well as a cottonball with several drops of lemon grass oil AND some bee pheromone bait was added (found on EBAY).  One swarm lure was placed in front of our home where bees seem to love it and the other was placed on our bee farm up against some palms.  It will be fun to see if we can attract a swarm.  We attended the Pinellas Beekeepers group last night and the consensus was the swarming may be starting earlier this year as their bees have been quite active already.  Attending the Pinellas beekeeper group was a great experience.  Very laid back group with some cool personalities.  The wife and I both enjoyed talking with everyone there.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Location, location, location

So much consideration has gone into picking the perfect spot for the bees.  I need to get it right the first time because the ant proof stand will be cemented into the ground and not easily moved.  The spot has 85% sun and most important, the morning sun will greet the hive.  In the afternoon there will be a little shade which I'm sure the bees will appreciate on hot Florida days.
The stand will roughly be located over the concrete blocks in the above picture.  The concrete blocks won't be part of the stand and are only there to level and measure the area.  The hives will face the older fence in the picture.  Just over that fence is roughly 3 acres of field and a great landmark for the bees to find their way home.  It really looks nice on the other side of the fence.  The bees will love it !
View from over the fence

That newer fence was constructed this week and serves several purposes.  Besides being a nice privacy fence for the bees it also diverts them from the condos behind our property.  There are no condos directly behind us but I wanted to be a good neighbor and do what I can to keep the bees away from that area.  The other purpose of the new fence is it's now where I store much of my spare wood and miscellaneous junk.  Keeps the mini farm looking neat.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I've got hives !!!!!!!

One of the cool things about getting into beekeeping are the endless puns available in everyday conversation.  My favorite is "Honey don't stop" which is the title of someone's bee keeping blog.

I've been quite busy the last couple weeks working on building the hives.  Originally, when I decided to try beekeeping it was going to be with one or maybe two hives at the most.  As with all my compulsive exploits, I end up getting completely immersed into whatever has captured my attention.  I'd had to admit it's a mental thing but not something I would ever change about myself.  I'm more aware of this condition now and can keep it ... kind of ... in control.  But researching bees has drawn me in deeper than usual and I can see where this will eventually end.  It's a lot of fun so far.  Building things out of wood is deeply gratifying and learning how to make tight finger joints in the boxes and learning many new woodworking skills has been a blast.

The one or two hives I originally envisioned has expanded to 5-6 hives to start with.  They're about 90% complete.  The only thing I bought were  frames which I still need to assemble.  In the future fabricating my own frames is probable.  My Langston hives will feature screened bottom boards to combat mites as well as a cool landing pad for the bees on the angle that they naturally approach the entrance with the tail low.  So when a bee is coming in for a landing heavy with pollen and nectar,  it will be greeted with an excellent landing pad angled just right.  I've also designed a really nice ant proof stand for the hives that places them about 2' above the ground.  Most of the design is not something I can take credit for but a few things are.  I certainly don't want ants to overrun our hives.  I've heard from many that ants can chase bees off.

At the last Tampa Beekeepers association meeting we signed up to take a turn volunteering at the State Fair next month.  Ought to be interesting.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Swarm traps

The first two deep hive bodies I built had a few imperfections that rendered them unusable to use in a hive.  But many lessons were learned.

However they will work for use as a certain type of swarm trap that has been churning in my mind recently.   Our house has seen more than it's share of swarms due to the "jungle look" style of landscaping I've employed.  Bees seem to love it here.  In July of 2007 one swarm arrived just hours before 200 people were to show up at our home after our son's funeral service.

Back then I knew nothing about swarms or bees other than we knew that we could not allow a large swarm of bees only 2 feet away from the walkway to our front door.  So our other son, my wife and I spent several hours before the funeral in a mad frenzy to disperse the swarm using a garden hose and I'm embarrassed to admit... wasp spray.  It took awhile but we did manage to clear the way for the many guests who were to arrive in a few hours.  I sometimes think that maybe it was our son's way of keeping us busy before the funeral to take our minds away from the grief.

Since then, several other swarms have shown up and several hives were even formed in the jungle so this is prime honeybee catching real estate.   The swarm traps have 1" openings on the side and the box is basically a deep brood box with a floor and top on hinges.  Also a 4" piece of 3/4" lumber with a 2 1/2 " hole above the trap is for hanging on a tree branch.

I gathered some old comb from old hives on the property as well as a couple pieces of discarded hive that I was given at the Tampa Bay Beekeepers apiary on Saturday.  Putting pieces of comb inside the hive as well as a cotton ball with lemon grass essence and a little beeswax will attract scout bees that are sent out before a swarm forms.  Might even add a little queen pheromone to the mix as well.

The only thing still needed are some frames and foundation to go into the traps.  Still trying to decide which frames to use.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Feeding the bees

Today was a beautiful day to work with the Tampa Bay Beekeepers Association bees.  A little chilly at 55-60 degrees but nice and sunny.  We met in Lithia Florida and then drove back into some orange groves / Blueberry groves where the association's bees were living at the time.  We went into all the hives looking for problems and as it's winter with not a lot of food available for the bees, we added pollen patties into the hives.

 There was plenty of hands on experience for all who attended as there were many hives to open up and inspect.  The new bee suit, gloves and hive tool worked great on their maiden voyage.

Met a lot of nice people and learned a lot today.  This is so addicting.

Blueberry bushes

A patty of pollen mixture/bee food on top of the frames

Friday, January 9, 2015

Bee Tiki

Every Bee farm needs a benevolent watcher to keep the evil spirits away and bestow peace and tranquility on the farm.  An Easter Island statue seemed to be just the thing so work began this week using a completely new (and cheaper) technique that has been formulating in my mind for some time now.

I originally welded an Easter Island statue for my wife's birthday a few years ago and then created a fiberglass mold of the statue.  After several modifications to the mold and creating a fiberglass and foam statue it was apparent that fiberglass was too costly and time consuming as well as dealing with those toxic smelling fumes.  I then purchased pour in foam which pretty much worked but was way to expensive for this type of project.  This tiki is made from cheap expanding spray foam that is found in all hardware stores.  At only $2.38 per can it's more than reasonable.

As in all projects, there were many lessons to be learned (the hard way) using this foam.  Number one is this stuff is extremely nasty.  DO NOT get it on your hands, skin or clothes as there is nothing that will get it off - google it if you don't believe me.  I wore gloves but I kept taking them off which meant accidentally touching wet foam.  By the end of the project I was covered with the stuff.  Never and I repeat NEVER use soap and water to get it off (like what I did).  Water is the hardening agent in this delightful chemical foam material.  I literally spent hours with a sharp pair of scissors scraping my skin to get this stuff off.  You're basically taking a layer of skin off to remove the foam.  No fun.  I can't imagine having some of this stuff get in your eyes.  Without a doubt you'd be blinded for life.  The other lesson learned using the cheap foam is you must make small layers instead of pouring 10 cans in at a time (what I did) which made an interesting and challenging mess.  But one that was recoverable, plus I learned how to hand sculpt this stuff with a knife (to fix all the mistakes).  Quite interesting and this will open future doors for sculpting whenever weird ideas flow into my brain.

While cleaning out the attic of the garage last week I found an old 1940's boiler style robot project that I had abandoned about 9 years ago.  It was made from bent cement tube and styrene.  I gave up the project after gluing the styrene and having all the skin bubble up from the type of glue I used.  As this robot's skin needed to be smooth, the styrene would need to be ripped off and completely sanded and re-skinned, so it was sent to the attic with all the other valuable rejects (junk) in our extensive personal property collection.

But the body seemed to be a fairly close fit for a body of the Easter Island statue.  Just need to add texture and arms and it could potentially allow me to make a 7-8 foot tiki. After apply some cheap hand mixed putty to the body with a paper towel the skin texture was near perfect. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Green Peppers and Tomato worms

Today I picked the first bounty from the garden ... two healthy green peppers.  Everything in the garden seems to be thriving in our homemade earth box type containers.  One problem though was several tomato worms that I found in the tomatoes.  I'm glad I found them because they can decimate tomato plants in no time.

Added some more paint to the shed and painted the bee hives white and turquoise to match the house and shed (I had spare paint so why not).  Suspending a 2x4 between the scaffold and hanging all the hives on the 2x4 allowed me to easily rotate them while painting all 4 sides at once.  Quite convenient.

The new batteries in the solar setup work excellent.  It was without a doubt the best deal I ever got on CraigsList.  So now we have all the power we need for the bee farm.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

House is finally complete

When we purchased this property there was a small house in pretty sad shape.  Our goal was to completely redo it and transform it into a nice home that we could rent.  As in all projects this one turned out to be much more work and expense than we expected.  So most of my energy has been poured into this project leaving little time to develop the mini farm I envisioned. 

Just around Christmas we were approached by a neighbor who knew someone needing a place to rent.  And they wanted to be in by January 1st so we had to really work to finish up the million little projects that needed to be done.  New Years eve we finished up and now have a signed lease on the house.  Which means we can get back to developing our mini bee farm.

The bee farm has a solar powered shed that sits in the middle of the lot in an area that gets lots of sun.  The solar system consists of four 100 watt panels, a 5000/10000 inverter, MPPT controller and several AGM batteries that were fried last week when I tried running a plasma cutter on the solar system.  Earlier this week I noticed the solar wasn't working and found a puddle of something under one of the batteries.  Bad news for sure.  There were several factors that caused their demise so this turned into one of those learning experiences.

The good news is I found the most amazing deal on a top of the line bank of 4  almost brand new AGM batteries.  The catch was we had to drive to Orlando to pick them up but the price and quality was well worth the drive.  Plus we were able to try a new (excellent) vegetarian restaurant in Orlando called the Dandelion cafe.  The new battery bank boosts the battery power to 460 ah from our old batteries @ 220 ah.  What this means is we will have plenty of power to spare and can power almost anything (except a plasma cutter) we need.

Tomorrow I'll install the new batteries and will finally be able to focus all my time into building bee hives and working on gardening.