Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's official - They're gone ...

It was pretty much the same this morning when I looked out at the swarm trap.  No activity.  So I made it a point to get home around noon to check on things and see if there were bees.

I got there right about noon and sure enough there were 5 honey bees hanging out in the entrance.  A pretty good sign but after looking around I realize there wasn't a buzz of activity around the hive.  No comings and goings.  So what's going on?  Are these wayward bees goofing off in their new playhouse when they should be out gathering pollen and nectar?  Maybe there's a drone inside and the girls are throwing a party.  Or maybe getting a little buzzed on the rich scent of lemon grass essential oil I put in the box.  Who knows?

And then a little lizard quickly slipped into the swarm trap.  Not a good sign for honey bees.  I opened up the box and sure enough empty.  Lizard was hiding under the frames and nothing else.

Empty !!!  It was a one night stand after all.  Back to square one.

Monday, February 23, 2015

One night stand?

I was quite happy when my new honey bee friends moved into our cozy little swarm trap.  It was fascinating watching them yesterday and I thought everything was going great !

That was until the next morning.  I woke up in a good mood thinking about all our new friends.  It was a little foggy out as I peered into the new morning light to check on activity around the swarm trap.  Hmmmm nothing .... well maybe they're sleeping in this morning.  After all it's a cool foggy morning and they're smart bees probably sleeping in.  About an hour later I peered out expecting to see the early risers out stretching their wings.  By now my euphoria and ego were deflating as my mind contemplated the possibilities.  Did they leave me?  No, there was a connection ... I felt it.   But then again .... still no sign of the girls.  Now my attention kept coming back to the entrance of the box hoping, anxiously waiting.   But as each minute ticked by the doubts kept creeping into my mind.  Was I the victim of a one night stand?  How humiliating.  No this can't be ... used ... another new inexperienced beekeeper falls prey to a bunch of pretty honey bee faces.   And I thought they were the ones ... my first (swarm).  Feeling foolish I left to go to work for the day slightly dejected, comforting myself with empty reassurances that there will be others.

When my wife got home from work she called me on my cell phone and said the swarm trap still had bees all over going in and out of the box.  What ???  It looks like I have a lot to learn. 

 Girls !!!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Welcoming our first Honey Bee Swarm

It started off with me looking out the window to see if there were any bees on our swarm trap.  After a few minutes I saw a bee buzzing around and go into the hive.  Then I saw a few more.  When I called the wife over to check it out, all the bees disappeared and after a few minutes she looked at me and said "Oh right ... lots of bees ha ha ha".

About 15 minutes later I went outside and the activity level started picking up and more and more honey bees were going into our swarm trap.  Before long there were 30-40 bees buzzing around the converted Nuc (swarm trap) and then it got to be in the hundreds.  Quite exciting.  I just couldn't believe it and was over the top overjoyed to be watching this.  Fortunately I took some video of our new friends buzzing around.
The next step is to give them a little space and let them get comfortable in their new digs.  Then I'll transfer the frames to another hive I have waiting.  I'll put them in the new deep box that my mom painted. 

What a good day it is !

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Rain barrels working well with low pressure soaker hoses

The rain barrels are filled and the plants are thirsty.  So the next step is to get the water to the raised beds and come up with an efficient irrigation system.  One local gardener I bumped into at Home Depot was showing me pictures of his garden and recommended using soaker hoses instead of drip irrigation.  He told me that it's more of a long term solution that works regardless of how you space your plants.  He didn't have a rain barrel system and used city water so soaker hoses hooked up to a pressurized system are much different than low pressure soaker hoses and a rain barrel system.

One option was to hook a pump up to the rain barrels and make my own pressurized system but a simple system was more what I wanted to build.  After extensive browsing the internet, there was one video about a soaker hose system hooked up to rain barrels.  The guy seemed pretty happy with the system but it bothered me that there wasn't more youtube videos or websites talking about the rain barrel soaker hoses from Mr. Drip / Mr. Soakerhose.  And there wasn't much else out there that worked on low pressure and rain barrels.  So I wasn't sure what to expect when the two 50' hoses and fittings arrived in our mail.

The first thing was 3/4" PVC pipe from the rainbarrels were ran underground to the garden area (about 25-30' away).  Then a 50' section was installed in each raised bed.  One bed was installed and tested it and it really worked well.  After doing the second section, I was surprised to find out that both of them hooked together worked just as efficient as running one. Plenty of pressure and moisture delivered to the plants. This system is just right for my setup as you cannot attach a standard soaker hose from a hardware store to a low pressure rainbarrel system.  And you cannot use the rain barrel soaker hoses with pressurized city water or it will blow them out.  Here's a video of the system in action.  (sorry about the smudge on the lens)
In the future the plans are for adding 2 more raised beds and a dual outlet irrigation timer if I can find one.  Otherwise it will be 2 separate timers.  Timers I also discovered are picky about water pressure and this system will need a low pressure timer.

I have been so busy there wasn't any time devoted to blogging about the plants I put in this week.  It's a work in process and the cold weather earlier in the week messed me up.   Tomatoes, kale, chard, onions, califlower, peppers, mustard greens, and a few others were planted.  It's all starting to come together.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

New plants and now a freeze warning

I didn't even have time to get a picture of our new plants in the raised beds.  A few days ago we bought a lot of veggie plants and they looked really nice in their new garden home.  I just kept forgetting to bring my camera.

It's been several years (2011) since we had a freeze around here so I'm going to have to take the blame for this cold weather.  Planting the new veggies must have jinxed it.   It's pretty chilly in the 40's during the day and forecast to get down to 33 degrees tonight !  Also a good excuse to put on a nice pot of delicious vegetarian chili.
Freeze warning tonight - Cover your plants and lions

So today was spent covering all the plants or at least as many as I could.  I had a roll of tyvek leftover from a building job so I made an enclosure over the raised beds and covered it with (noisy) tyvek in the gusty winds.  Quite the challenge made easier when the wife showed up.  The cold weather will be here for 2 days and will jump back into the 70's.  Hopefully it's the only freeze this year.  At least we don't live in cold weather parts of the country.  We went to COSTCO yesterday and 60% of the cars in the lot were from out of state.  Not that I blame them.

Cozy plants all tucked in for the night.
Even the bees were not their normal active selves.  They came in early today anticipating the chill I guess.  In case of bad weather, I made boards that I could slide into the hives to close up the bottom and keep the girls warmer.  They'll appreciate it tonight. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Best looking bee hives in town

My mother is a talented artist so I asked her if she would like to decorate one of my hives.  I left it up to her how she wanted to do it and of course it turned out better than I ever could have anticipated.  She even offered to do a couple more which I will gladly accept.  The girls will love 'em !!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

More Swarm Traps

The original swarm traps I tried to make from experimental hive boxes were not usable.  The frames wouldn't go in straight and just wasn't correct as far as allowing enough bee space for the bees to move around.  So they were both cut up and reused as 5 frame swarm traps kind of like a nuc.   The construction was a little ugly but the boxes were solid (heavy) and should work perfect as swarm traps.  After painting the exterior and then washing the boxes I loaded them up with queen pheromone and lemongrass essential oil scent.

That brings our trap count to 6 if you count the 2 nucs deployed a few weeks ago.  The one in front of our house always seems to have one or two bees going in and out of it checking it out.  It seems quite likely it will attract a swarm.

I wiped the outside of the boxes with beeswax.  Never heard of that before but it's to counteract the new paint smell and will even repel water somewhat.  Worth a try.

I dropped off 3 of the swarm traps today in various places around the city and it feels like fishing where you're holding the pole patiently waiting. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Horse Puckey

I couldn't pass up a good opportunity to get a truckload of free horse manure.  Better yet, they even load it for you with their tractor.  What a deal.  And to top it off, the manure was already partially composted with almost no smell.  I had my truck bed loaded to add to the bee farm's compost piles to build some excellent soil.

They had 30 horses, cows and baby calves.  It was quite convenient as they were only about 10 miles away from here.  I didn't use the trailer this time which worked out well as there was some tight areas to maneuver around.  I had a friend with me who helped unload the truck when we got back to the bee farm. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A few more Bee Lessons and Rain Barrels

I've been kind of concerned that I put the upper deep boxes on the hives much too early.  In researching on the internet it was unanimous that I shouldn't have put them on.  So today I went in to inspect the hives and it was quite interesting.  My smoker kept going out and was a pain to keep going.  Since then I found some good youtube videos explaining that's one of the biggest frustrations for new beekeepers and found some good tips how to keep it burning all day if need be(e).

The first hive I went into was not happy about the intrusion into their home.  The first thing I noticed was the upper super of empty frames had quite a few bees on the frames.  They weren't making comb or anything productive from what I could see.  What I deduced was they were eating the wax off those frames.  I recalled reading something about this happening when there's too many empty frames and space.  After deciding to remove the upper box my dilemma was evicting the bees that were happily munching the wax.  It took awhile but I finally succeeded.   Then I inspected the frames from the nucs as well as the new frames on the lower hive.  I saw the queen which was good and everything looked ok.
Back to single deep super

The second hive was pretty much the same.  I wasn't sure about the queen though.  I think I saw a couple drones which at first had me thinking they were the queen.  Removing the upper box had the same challenges but this hive of bees seemed much calmer than the first group.  Also they drew some comb on the new frames which was encouraging.

All week I've been tinkering with the rain barrel system and it's looking and working pretty good.  I also added a 5th barrel to be a compost tea brewer.  It won't be connected to the rain barrel system but will probably be able to interface with the hydration delivery systems which are still in early design phase.  What I would love to do is automate most of the watering.

The rain diverter was one of the biggest frustrations in building this.  Initially I purchased the (expensive) fiskars diverter (a diverter filters debris like leaves and twigs and has an overflow mechanism).
Redneck Diverter

While it worked, it was just marginal.  I bought a very simple diverter at ACE hardware and it works much better.  Only downside is the overflow is a bit messier and overflow will just flow off the initial barrel onto the ground.  No big deal.  The day before I finished we had intense rain but I wasn't able to capture any of it.   If you're thinking about a rain barrel system my advice is to not use metal barrels.  Only metal one I have is for the composter.  The problem with metal is cutting a hole in the barrel for the spicot.  Cutting strong steel is more than a lot of people want to deal with.  Fortunately I have a good array of metal working tools.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Volunteering Florida State Beekeepers association booth during the State Fair

Monday Yvonne and I volunteered to help the Florida State Beekeepers association in manning their booth at the State Fair.  Even though we're pretty new at this, it was a good opportunity to meet some experienced beekeepers and some nice people.  We met several beekeepers who at one time had over 1000 hives.  They all said it's not what it used to be with all the beatles, mites, foul brood disease and the disappearing bees (colony collapse disorder)

In addition to giving out samples of honey and selling honey, there were plenty of people to talk with throughout the day.  Especially since it turned into one of those days where it rained all day which made the exhibits in the buildings even more enticing to fair goers.

Our booth had a display of live bees in a glass case.  But what was real funny was the lone bee on the outside who wanted to get in with all the other bees.  This bee must have flown into the building and found the hive because she stayed under the hive in a little space most of the day.  A couple times she came out and scared some people tasting honey and I'll admit it was amusing to see people jump when a real bee came out from under the hive.
We worked for 7 hours and then planned on walking the fair and seeing other exhibits.  It was a good thing we had our umbrellas because it was really coming down.  Not many people walking in the rain and a lot of unhappy vendors outside trying to sell their crazy food which seems to dominate the State Fair.  More junk food than anything else.  But that must be why everyone goes to the fair.  For some of that delicious pig butt on a stick.  Make mine the soy version thank you.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Pineapples and the first red tomato

Yesterday was spent getting a trailer full of finely ground oak mulch from a large stump grinding.  It was free but took a good bit of work and time.  The mulch will come in handy.

The nice thing about the Florida Bee Farm is it's a place where I can move a lot of our home plants.  Especially the ones that haven't reached their potential because of giant oak trees around our house that provide so much shade and limit the sun.  A couple strong honeysuckle plants were transplanted to be in close proximity to the honey bee hives.  Honey bees love honeysuckle and I have a feeling that will be one popular flowering plant back there.

I also moved a couple pampas grass plants that were really doing poorly.  If they thrive they will look very cool around the lion.  Hopefully the full sun will revive them again.  And today half of our  pineapple plants were moved to the bee farm.  Even in almost full shade they have been producing pineapples for years.  Can't imagine how they'll do in the sun.  All the pineapples were simply started by whacking the leafy top off and sticking it in the ground.  They don't produce a lot but when they do, the pineapples are delicious.  That is if I can get to them before the critters do.  In the pineapple patch is also a banana tree that we bought last weekend,  just because ...
Pineapple (and one banana) plants

The bees are really doing well in their new homes.  Today I removed the sugar feeders I put in them and added frames to the upper deep box.  Maybe it's a little early to do that but I'm going to give it a try.  I stood and watched the bees coming and going for awhile today and noticed that the ones coming into the hives were loaded down with pollen.  I didn't realize how easy it is to see the pollen that's hanging on the side of their legs.  They all were loaded down with pollen so sugar feeding is off the menu.  It didn't take them long at all to adapt to their new homes.
Almost ripe tomato

And last but not least.  Our first red tomato !!!!!  Maybe a day or two more and we'll be munching a fresh tomato from the garden.  Yippee dog !

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Honey Bees from Nucs to hives ... their new homes

In the morning, the bees were active and all seemed to be quite healthy in both of the nucs.  I spent almost an hour transferring them from the nucs into the hives with no problems.  It was actually quite enjoyable even with my newbee apprehension for doing everything right.  In reviewing the video I took, it looks like I may have switched a frames orientation which isn't what you're supposed to do but it's probably not a show stopper.  I looked for the queen but didn't want to spend too much time doing that and closed up the hive.

The smoker kept going out so I need to get some pine needles to go with the wood shavings I had (from making the hives). 

A fun and educational day.  Reminded me of a playground full of children who are in awe of a new playground they inherited.  All day long they were zooming all around the mini farm checking everything out.  I love it.

But mid day I decided to give them a house warming gift of some honey we had. A large scale food fight broke out with all the bees as well as a couple wasps and other visitors.  In retrospect, that was probably not a good idea.  It looked to me like they were almost drunk on honey.  As I was eating my lunch a bee flew over to the table I had my lunch on and it almost looked like she was laying there taking a nap !  I know that's probably not at all what was going on but it sure looked like it to me.  She was there next to me for awhile. 

All the composted materials were transferred to the raised beds with some left over for potting and miscellaneous planting.  Good exercise was had today.