Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gentle Honey Bees again

Yesterday was hive inspection day and the influence of the new queens was quite apparent.  The bees are once again a joy to be around and are quite patient and gentle. 

Back in July when I opened up the hives it was quite chaotic with my bad attitude bees.  After doing inspections at least 50-100 stingers would be embedded in my gloves.  The bees would follow and harass at quite a distance.  Just working in the garden or even pulling into the bee yard would bring out the bully guard bees looking for trouble.   Thankfully, that has completely changed with the re-queening.

Now I can work in the gardens without concern and opening up the hives is a calming almost spiritual experience once again.  All 5 hives have plenty of new brood and seem to be thriving.  It looks like they've been dipping into their honey and nectar reserves but the fall nectar flow will be starting any day now so the supers should be filling up with honey again.  No stingers in the gloves, no pelting of bees against the veil and guard bees quickly lose interest when you walk away.  This whole cycle of passive to aggressive to passive was quite an informative lesson in understanding bee behavior.  The aggressive behavior was a combination of several factors.  The summer heat, bees protecting their honey, animals trying to breach the hive, and being queenless will ramp up a colony's apprehension level.  But I think the primary reason for (extreme) aggressiveness is when the a queen mates with an africanized drone to start producing brood (baby bees) with those genes.   My hives have experienced all the above mentioned factors which makes the Bee Farm more prepared for the future.   And as in most lessons, experiencing them firsthand is much better than reading about it in a book or online.   The first year of beekeeping is the toughest they say.  And the most educational.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mini Greenhouse

This is the time of year in Florida where you should already have your seeds planted to get ready for the fall growing season.  Last year I tried growing various plants from seeds with mixed success and many lessons were learned the hard way (of course).

What I learned is the seeds need a place to grow where they won't get too much moisture and will get enough sunlight but not so much that it roasts them.  One option that was used put plastic covers over the containers with seedlings.  It worked somewhat ok but turn your back on this setup for a moment and you'll find cooked seedlings or seedlings covered in mold.  What I've been considering for some time is to build a miniature greenhouse type structure.  Something that will allow sunlight and also protect the seedlings from rainstorms.  A structure that's well ventilated but one that can be closed in somewhat during any cold spells that we may get in the winter.  Also the structure had to be made with all the pieces of lumber and scrap wood I had laying around the beefarm.
Mini Greenhouse

Happy seedlings

After considering dozens of designs, I ruled out a free standing structure because I didn't have enough 2x4's for that.  I could have driven to the store and picked up a couple but I wanted to get this project rolling.  And by attaching the structure to the shed, it required less lumber as it was able to use the shed for one side.  Plus the shed sheltered it from wind.  The final greenhouse came out better than I imagined and works great.  The only regret is I didn't make it 3" higher because I keep banging my head when I go in and out.  Oh well.

Greenhouse made from recycled materials
Everything is growing like mad on the BeeFarm.  Seedlings are starting out nice, Okra is over 5' tall and producing quite a bit of okra.  Moringa trees have skyrocketed so we can start harvesting Moringa.  Citrus trees are doing well and a new group of wildflowers are blooming in the Bee and Butterfly Garden. 
Bee and Butterfly Garden


Okra growing like crazy
Papaya trees are starting to settle down after the transplant

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Visitor to the Bee Farm

While working at the Bee Farm the other day we had one of our cool neighbors stop by with her Macaw which was a rescue bird.  This is the lady who rescues animals and owns hedgehogs, flying squirrels (occasionally) and a few other exotic animals as well as the "Magic Cat" who occasionally stops by to inspect the Bee Farm.  The story behind Magic Cat was explained on an earlier blog entry.

I was lucky to hold the Macaw for awhile while visiting with the neighbor.  An interesting bird for sure.
Macaw visits the Bee Farm

A nice diversion from yard work

Friday, August 14, 2015

New Beekeeper Assistant

After a week of getting the garden ready for fall, it was time to open up the hives and see how the new queens were faring.  My nephew expressed interest in beekeeping so we both suited up and I gave him a tour of the bee hives and answered questions.  It's always fun telling new-Bees about life in the hive.  There's plenty of interesting subjects to talk about in the life of a bee.  And my nephew seemed to enjoy helping out and observing the bees and the hives.  And for me, it was nice having an extra set of hands available.
First time in a hive for my assistant
The bees seemed to be doing all right for this time of the year.  At the local beekeeper meeting I heard that many bees in this area were running low on honey as this is a slow time of the year for nectar, but mine seemed to be doing pretty good.   Some of my bees had very little brood but there were queens.  One hive had a ton of brood though.  I still put a couple feeders on hives and only pulled a few frames out of each hive for inspection to be as unobtrusive as possible.  The lack of brood in the hives will work itself out I'm sure.  And I'm pretty sure I saw stick eggs in those hives.

The good news is the ant problem is solved for now.  There were a couple ants on a few lids but most of them were pretty clean.  Zero hive beetles were found but there were wax moths in the diatomaceous earth in the lower trays.  Hopefully the diatomaceous earth will do it's job and eradicate the wax moths.

But all in all the hives all looked well and the bees were much much calmer.  Queenless bees get agitated easily and now all the hives have queens so that's making a big difference.  After opening all hives we walked away and none followed us.  A month ago I would have had 200 bees attacking me still at 100 yards from the hive.  But that was pretty much from one particularly mean hive which is no more.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Papayas, Okra and getting ready for fall gardening

It's been a busy week getting ready for fall gardening.  First thing that needed to be done though was to transplant the papayas that my neighbor grew over to the bee farm.  There were many more papayas than anticipated though.  My nephew has been helping all week and we spent several days getting a few yards of topsoil and then transplanting the papayas into pots that we had available.  We had to prioritize this since all the rain of the last month loosened the roots of some of the papayas and laid them down.  If we didn't move them asap they would not survive.
Nephew Joey in charge of transporting the papayas to the Bee Farm

This whole papaya idea is not yet completely formed.  I really don't know where I'm going with these and what we'll do with 80,000 pounds of papayas come harvest season.  But it should look pretty cool and very tropical.

The Okra is going to town and we'll be frying up some Okra tonight.  I didn't realize how pretty the flowers were on the Okra plant.  Beautiful.
Okra with flower
It's been tough trying to source horse manure for the compost pile.  Some of my sources were flooded out during the rains and others are just not reliable sources.  Eventually it will happen and hopefully sooner than later so it can compost and be ready for the fall gardens.

Seeds were ordered for the fall garden include tomatoes, carrots, peppers, moringa, onions, pumpkins, zuccini, beans, Florida kale, lettuce and a couple others I can't remember.  This year I cross referenced a document the state of Florida puts out showing recommended planting dates for plants as well as recommended subspecies of plants that do well in Florida's climate.  That should make a difference.

The solar powered rain barrel irrigation system was also completely redone.  All the wiring was pulled out and a new switch was installed.  There was a problem with a screwball switch I originally installed that caused the pump to work irregularly.  The new wiring solved the problem and it's pumping water perfectly now.  The other significant modification made was we dug a trench and installed pvc pipe from the city freshwater supply to a junction in the rainbarrel system and added a checkvalve and manual valve to feed the irrigation system when the rainbarrels run dry.  I discovered that problem the hard way during a spell of draught in  the spring where I had to spend a few hours manually watering everything when the rainbarrels were empty. 

The next step in the irrigation system is to install timers and to finish adding other sections of soaker hose / sprinkler heads.  Not a big priority now but it will be needed soon enough.  The key is to make gardening as automated as possible giving you the time to attend to details like weeding and chasing varmits from the plants.  And most important, my afternoon Siesta.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A House for Bernard (our Lion) and Summer Gardening

With all the rain we've been experiencing plus the fact that lions are in the news lately, we decided that our lion Bernard (distant relative of Cecil) should have a covered shelter to get out of the rain if he wants.   Plus where he was previously hanging out got so overgrown with flowers and weeds that he was pretty much hidden.  A watch-lion needs to be seen, not hidden like a cowardly lion in the undergrowth. 
Bee farm watch-lion (Bernard)

Happy with his new home and his proud mama
Now that the sun is shining, it was fun working in the garden again.  We pulled weeds and transplanted a few potted plants and moved several others.  It's amazing how some of our plants grew so much in the last month.  Our Okra is doing well and is quite healthy. 
My two Moringa and numerous Papaya plants are also doing well.  Unfortunately in the heavy rains, I lost a dozen or so Papaya's that fell over in the water saturated soil.   But most of them are still doing well. 
Moringa and Papaya plants

A few months ago at a rally against Monsanto I was given some seeds that I mistakenly thought were Moringa plants.  When they sprouted, they didn't look at all like Moringa so I went to a gardening facebook page and asked what the plants were.  Turns out I received a handful of Tumeric seeds that are now quite healthy and ready to go into the ground.  Yvonne transplanted them into our new Tumeric garden.  Tumeric root and Moringa plants are loaded with excellent nutrients and are very good for you.
Tumeric garden
It really felt good getting out into the garden and working.  It's such good therapy getting your hands dirty while working with plants and the earth.  Our bees were very good and seem to have really calmed down now that they have good weather.  The Queenless hives are now back to normal with their new queens and gardening around the hives no longer brings out the guard bees.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

All hives re-queened and creatures of the night

Since all of my hives were feral hives, the State of Florida requires you to re queen them within a reasonable time.  Not all beekeepers follow this but I felt it should be done for my hives.  I chose a queen breeder in Ohio that specialized in Italian Cordovan queens which is a gentle genetic line of honey bees.  Plus those queens are a beautiful yellow color that stands out.

The re-queening was somewhat difficult while experiencing the worst weather we've seen in the 20 years we lived here.  Finding the existing queens for some reason was difficult for myself and another very experienced beekeeper that was helping.  In between monsoon downpours we would quickly look  through some frames until we had to close it back up.  Felt bad for the poor bees that put up with our intrusions.

On one particularly difficult hive where we just could not find the queen, I was taught a technique he called the "shaker method".  Basically a last resort effort to find a queen.  This entailed shaking all the bees off the frames and putting the empty frames in a brood box off to the side.  Then take another empty brood box with a queen excluder taped to the bottom and shake all the bees into this box.  Even shake the bees that are on the base into this empty box.  Place the box with frames on the bottom board/base and then place the box of bees (with queen excluder) on top of the box of frames and close it all up.  All the nurse bees in the box of bees will go down through the queen excluder to work with the brood in the frames of the lower box.  Several bees will be stuck in the top box including the queen and drones.  I did this and two days later went in and found the queen on the excluder.  Then this hive was ok to be re-queened.

On another hive I found the queen after a lot of intensive looking.  Very happy so I installed the new queen cage and then closed everything up.  Then while moving the caught queen I accidentally opened the clip holding the queen and she flew away.  She would likely fly back to her hive so I immediately slipped a queen excluder above the entrance to prevent her from returning and also preventing the new queen from getting established.  And that worked just fine other than the fact drones couldn't leave or return for 2 days.

The queens all come in their own little cage with several nurse bees.  The cage has an entrance capped with a plug of candy.  If you were to put a new queen directly into a hive, the worker bees would immediately kill her.  By leaving her in the protective cage for several days, her pheromone  scent permeates the hive and the worker bees get used to her .. all the while eating away at the candy plug to open the entrance of her cage.  Often the queen and her attendants with her will also nibble away at the candy on their side of the candy plug.  Usually only takes a couple days.

Yesterday was the second nice sunny day we've had in a long time so the hives were opened and  queen cages were checked.  Sure enough all the of cages were opened.  And the bees were like a bunch of excited little kids running in and out of the cages.  They just love that strong queen pheromone smell.

A friend suggested I put a few mouse traps on the hive to see if we have any animals coming in the night to try and access the hives.  Sure enough the traps were snapped when I arrived yesterday and one hive had the entrance reducer pulled out about 8 inches.  Some critter was trying to reach into the hive.  They were able to pull it out since the entrance reducer was loose from the temporary queen excluder.  Now that the queen excluder was removed that will hopefully not happen again because the entrance being wide open also started a massive bee robbing war.  Plenty of dead bees on the bottom board and a pile on the ground out front.  This time of year bees robbing hives is common.  Hopefully the reinstalled entrance reducer will make the hive easier to defend against robbing.

I've heard that your first year of beekeeping is the hardest and I believe that statement.  It's the year where you learn so many lessons .... often, the hard way.  It really is a lot of work but it's worth it.  These bees are fascinating and nobody .... and I mean nobody has them completely figured out.