Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Stainless steel bee sculptures for sale

It's been just too busy to post blog entries lately.  I've had more than enough to write about but not the time to write.  Besides working with the bees and plants, I'm getting back into metal sculptures and have been making all sorts of honey bee sculptures of various sizes.  The largest so far is made of heavy stainless steel with a wingspan of over four feet.  I'll offer them for sale in different sizes in stainless steel or regular steel. 
Honey Bee metal sculptures for sale

And today was typical of how my days have been going with a full schedule of things that need to be done.  After an early arrival at the Florida Bee Farm, I noticed our two peach trees which were loaded with fruit were completely stripped of their fruit.  And not a single peach was on the ground which makes me think that possibly some animal made off with them.  Not sure.
53" stainless steel (wing span) Honey Bee Sculpture on bee shed overlooking apiary
28.5" wing span Steel Honey Bee Sculpture hanging out on a log overlooking the apiary

The next thing I noticed after opening the bee shed was a lot of buzzing going on inside the shed.  Turns out a swarm of bees decided to make a new home inside the shed !  So the morning was spent relocating the wayward bees into a proper home. I didn't have my bee vac hose with me so I had to hand carry most of the bees to their new home.  The funniest thing though was the bees were clumped up on all my bee tools that were haphazardly thrown on the bench.  And a little cardboard box that originally held my one handed queen catcher was completely full of bees.  My guess is the queen was in the box that said "one handed queen catcher" on the side of it.  How ironic.  So all the bees were coaxed into a nuc I had waiting over by the hives.  Quite a busy morning for sure.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Bee Jail and a new Tree "nuc"

One problem with all these bees around is you're bound to occasionally get that over zealous guard bee who makes it her mission to drive you as far away from the hives as possible.  Once they start buzzing you and hitting you, it's just a matter of time before you get stung.  And there's not much you can do to talk her out of it.  I've tried using a spray container of soapy water which somewhat works and is a good way to get soapy water in your eyes when the wind is blowing.  Usually they keep coming though.  So several weeks ago we had visitors to the Bee farm - a couple beekeepers and gardeners.  One of the beekeepers had a really cool method of dealing with guard bees on a mission.  She said she puts them into "bee jail" and explained that she uses a butterfly net to catch the bee and then lays the net on the ground and tells the bee she's in bee jail until she calms down. 

A honey bee serving time in bee jail
So I bought a butterfly net and sure enough one day I had one of those pesky guard bees trying to bully me around my garden.  One swipe of the butterfly net and I caught her and was she mad.  I watched as she did contortions in the net for awhile and I was able to get nice and close to her and explain she needed to check the attitude and calm down.  Then I put the net on the floor of the shed and went about my business.  She was there for an hour or so and calmed right down.  Eventually she was able to get out of the net and fly back to her hive.  At that point I was wondering if she would be out for revenge or maybe she was rehabilitated and back to being a productive honey bee citizen.  And sure enough she learned her lesson and I haven't had an encounter with a guard bee since.  Even while doing some gardening around the hives.  It's a great idea and it actually works !

A few weeks ago I did a bee rescue from a large fallen tree in a local park and ended up keeping the chunk of tree with the entrance to the hive.
Nuc using a natural bee entrance in a tree

Last week it was turned into a nuc and added to the apiary. The piece on top with remnants of comb is covered smooth with propolis and looked too cool to discard. Ought to be interesting to see how the bees like it.

Nuc built into a tree

Friday, April 29, 2016

The up's and down's of beekeeping

Earlier in the week I was quite elated with all the new bees that had unexpectedly showed up or were rescued.  It was a lot of work but seemed worthwhile.

I spent a day and a half building, caulking and painting new equipment for the bees.  However when I went to install the new hardware, I was greatly disappointed to find the rescued hive I brought into the apiary had vanished !!!!   Completely absconded.   There was a queen and they were mild mannered beautiful bees so it was a sad moment.

Why?   Well first off, it was stressful for the bees to have their home (a tree) crash down and then when I arrived, a chainsaw was used to get to the hive and the bees.  This made a big mess of sawdust that covered all the brood and a great deal of sawdust was vacuumed into the temporary base which was the bee vac base.  And the brood was pretty covered in dirt and dust.  But that was really the only way to get these bees out of the tree.  A trap out wasn't in the cards because the county needed the hive removed before the weekend as it was close to where people walk.

Also .... the nucs with the new swarms were different.  Only one Nuc had some bees remaining and it didn't look like the swarm that was there the other day.  Who knows what happened there.  Oh well, easy come, easy go.  I don't even try to figure it out any more.  They do what they're going to do.

And one of my other hives was queenless and not doing so well so I borrowed some brood from a stronger hive to build it up.  So many queens seem to unexpectedly disappear.

Today I'll put some bee swarm traps out at The Florida Bee Farm and try to re-capture some of these bees.  Maybe we'll get some of them back.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Blueberries and bees, bees, bees

Tomato plants are almost all gone now and in a way I'm kind of relieved because I spent a couple hours a day working on them.  It was pleasant working on them but a lot of work.  Now the blueberries are just going crazy and we're getting a lot of berries.  My wife and I were out close to sunset picking blueberries and got several quarts of them.  And boy are they delicious.  We're also getting a lot of various peppers and papayas. 

Papayas, blueberries, tomatoes and peppers for today

delicious blueberries
The Honeybee and pollinator garden is also blooming like crazy and the sunflowers are making their debut.  It's so wonderful sitting out there and watching all the butterflies and bees zipping around among the flowers. 

Sunflowers starting to bloom
I had a phone call yesterday asking if I could remove a hive from a fallen tree in one of our local parks.  For some strange reason I said yes even though I don't have enough hive parts available.  That and the fact I had a dozen other things going on.

The guy from the county said he thought the tree was hollow and would be easy to cut into.  But that was not to be.  It was a massive tree and where the bees lived it was slightly hollow but mostly solid wood.  The guy from the county offered to help but said he couldn't because he didn't have a bee suit.  So I said "I have a spare you can borrow" and suited him up so he could run the chain saw while I vacuumed the bees into the bee vac.  It turned out to be a good amount of work but the good news is I got the queen which is always a concern.

The big dilemma I was facing however was the fact that I didn't have any more bases for my hives.  So I decided to set up the new hive using the bottom of the bee vac contraption I built.  The entrance (temporarily) would be the hose hole for the vac until I could build, source or buy another base.  So problem solved for the moment.

But the big surprise of the day happened when I arrived back at The Florida Bee Farm and was greeted with two new swarms that had taken up residence in two empty Nucs that were sitting on a bench.  Bees everywhere !!  When I woke up this morning I had no desire to get any more bees as the apiary was pretty full.   Now I have three more hives counting the squatter bees in my nucs.  Time to build more bee stuff !!!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Making a stand, Honeycomb from heaven, and a busy bee month

What a month !  The Florida Bee Farm needed more room to accommodate all the new arrivals (3 swarms caught) and one split so a new stand was built and squeezed into the apiary.  A large Oleander bush and one papaya tree needed to be relocated and the ground needed leveling in the area of the new stand and it turned out nice.  Not as shaded as the other hives but there is some shade.
New hive stand and 2 of the 3 new hives at the Florida Bee Farm

New brood boxes needed painting and stands needed to be finished to work correctly.  Also bought several migratory covers to experiment with instead of the covers I'm currently using which seem to host more pests and ants than I care to deal with.  But I remember a couple old time beekeepers saying that migratory covers are best in Florida and they're probably right.  I'll probably change all my hives to use migratory covers because I'm tired of finding ants, spiders, frogs and lizards under the cover.

The tomatoes have really been getting most of my attention and have been producing quite a few delicious tomatoes.  Between many nice meals with them and multiple canning sessions, they are just about done for the season.  I learned a lot and picked up a few tips for next year when I plant tomatoes again.  This weekend we probably did our last canning of the season.   It's a bit of work but so very satisfying. 
Final tomato canning session of the year

My latest experiment that was started about a month ago is Hops.  I purchased a few starts from a company in Michigan and they're already 5' tall !!!  They're growing like mad.  It will be an interesting experiment and if successful they may be grown on a larger scale next year even though they're not officially a Florida plant since they may need cold to go dormant.
Honeycomb from heaven The Florida Bee Farm

More honeycomb from heaven at The Florida Bee Farm

The other day I was sitting under a tree and got up to do something.  When I came back, a 8" piece of honeycomb with some bees was sitting next to the chair.  Looking up, I couldn't see through the canopy of leaves to determine if any bees were up there.  Next day I walked by and there were two more pieces of fresh beautiful honeycomb on the ground.  Something's going on up in the tree but not sure what and why the comb keeps falling out.  Fresh made comb is quite amazing.  Very light, perfectly formed and just beautiful.

Finally, for the first time I did a split of one of the hives that was getting too large.  Stacking too many boxes on top of each other is too heavy for me to lift up high and it's also not good for the bees unless you add an upper entrance to the hive.  Because you don't want them coming in with their nectar and pollen and having to climb through a couple brood boxes and honey supers to drop off their load.  So I'm keeping my fingers crossed.  Another hive I was in this week may be in trouble as the brood wasn't looking good.  Possibly needs a queen. 

There's been an abundance of fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit on our table this month.  Delicious.  And the extra has been sold at the Indian Rocks Co-Op which has been a great group to work with.  A good place to get organic veggies, plants, and all sorts of things. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Being there to welcome the new arrivals

There's nothing like being there when the bees swarm. You can feel their excitement and it's such a special moment to be there when they arrive.   The air is filled with thousands of beautiful honey bees flying around and around while their comrades fill the entrance of the hive to check out their new home.  The bees couldn't be any gentler in this state either.

The next morning it looked like there were no bees in the box.  No guards, nothing.  No foragers.  So I thought they were gone.  BUT a few hours later they emerged from the box and are there.

I guess they had a rough swarm and slept in.  I don't know.  Only thing I know for sure is more boxes need to be built and painted.  I'm running out of room at the The Florida Bee Farm.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Latest swarm we caught settling into their new home

Yesterday afternoon a friend called and said there was a swarm in an orange tree a few miles from me.  So I took advantage of that opportunity to re-populate one of my hives that recently disappeared.  The orange tree was full of fragrant blossoms which made it particularly pleasant.

Fortunately I was able to get these really nice honey bees between rainstorms. 

While sizing up the situation and figuring out how I was going to get the bees out of the tree, the homeowner and a bunch of his neighbors gathered to watch.  The only problem was when the homeowner walked up to me and smacked at a bee that was on my shoulder.  I told him that was the worst thing he could do.  The bees don't land on you to sting you ... well at least not unless provoked.  But I was able to educate them somewhat about bees and thanked the group for calling someone to remove the bees instead of calling an exterminator who would just kill all of them. 

I'm hoping they like their new home at The Florida Bee Farm. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Pestilence, destruction with lost and found bees

To say things are busy at the Florida Bee Farm would be an understatement.  The tomato plants have been producing like mad and we canned 10 quarts of tomatoes in addition to using many of the tomatoes in recipes we like.
Washed tomatoes

canning tomatoes

But these tomato plants take a crazy amount of time every day.  I spend at least 2-3 hours a day re-staking, trimming browned leaves, looking for worms, and harvesting.  And I love doing it so don't get me wrong here.  It's relaxing.

But it's getting to the point where these tomato plants are at the end of their life.  They lost most of their leaves and I'm not sure why.  Possibly a fungus or ????  I'm pretty sure they have enough water and not too much since they are watered with a drip irrigation system.  Maybe the browning and losing of leaves is natural for tomatoes when they are fruiting.  I'm not sure.  But the latest problem has been an infestation of tomato worms which is a big problem since I'm doing this organically without pesticides.  These @#^*&^ worms burrow holes into a lot of tomatoes making them useless.  Yesterday I tossed dozens of tomatoes into the compost bin.  And I squashed a little more than a dozen worms too.  My purple cherokee tomatoes which were just starting to produce nice size fruit (which were not quite ripe) were hit hard.  Oh well, we'll just focus on the tomatoes we do harvest.  And next year we may rethink some things.

The bees are busy as ever doing what they do.  I caught a nice swarm in one of my traps but it looks like one of the hives on the stand is empty.  Maybe they're the ones in the swarm trap, not sure.

The pollinator garden in memory of Paul is doing great and loaded with flowers and milkweed.  The Monarch butterflies and honey bees are all over it. 

I think this blog may be winding down some as I just don't have the time to keep it active.  Too many things to do lately.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bye bye bees : (

Over two weeks ago I ordered some needed equipment from Mann Lake Beekeeper supply and they still haven't shipped !  This is their busy season and it looks like I'll have to wait.  But unfortunately what I was waiting for would have prevented the loss of many thousands of bees from the largest hive I had.  I was going to split the hive but looks like the bees did it for me.

Yesterday when I was getting ready to leave the Florida Bee Farm, I went over to check on the bees.  And it was an amazing site.  My busiest hive emptied out and zillions of bees were flying around in front of the hive.  It was loud too.  From about 20 feet away you could hear all the buzzing and excitement coming from the hive.  This time of year large honey bee hives make extra queens to facilitate splitting the hive.  Sometimes multiple groups will fly off to form their own colony's.  As a beekeeper, you try to prevent this by doing a split for the hive.  But in this case I was too late and off they went. 

I can't help thinking that the bees were excited to head out and move into their new home wherever it is.  It's nature and you just have to go with it.  The video I took with my phone didn't capture the big ball of bees in the tree very well but you can kind of make them out.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Mrs. Chippy's plant world and edible landscape design

Debra from Mrs. Chippy's plant world
 Last week I took an incredible road trip to visit Debra from Mrs. Chippy's plant world and edible landscape design in St. Petersburg.  She had a large diverse collection of beautiful tropical edible plants throughout her entire property.   No wonder, she's a master gardener and practices natural organic permaculture gardening principles.  This tropical paradise was loaded with honey bees feasting on all her flowering plants.  The bee in the sunflower image below was completely covered  in pollen.  I wish I had a better camera to show the mess she was making.
honey bee completely covered with pollen

Debra sells red wriggler worms and was able to set me up with a nice worm casting / compost system.  With this system the worms will make super food for your plants and provide a powerful compost that makes the best compost tea.  Plus the worms multiply.  More worms = more compost.
Getting up close and personal with my compost

I had purchased her worms through the Indian Rocks co-op but incorrectly placed them into my compost pile which I later found out was a very bad idea.  Thinking it through, I quickly realized the mistake and dumped my two compost bins and manually went through all the compost looking for worms.  Since it was the next day, three hours of sifting only yielded about 20 worms or so.  They blend in so well.   Debra was a great help and quickly set me on the right track to raising worms correctly.

In addition to learning about many exotic plants I traded honey for plenty of cuttings and plants to bring back to The Florida Bee Farm.  It was a blast learning from an expert.    Here's a few pictures of Mrs. Chippy's plant world.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Double rain barrel capacity and pests in the compost pile

The Florida Bee Farm has about 8 watering zones and each takes a good amount of water.  Up until now, our 275 gallon rain barrel system would run dry after only a couple runs. Plus the water recovery intake (the system that takes the rain from the gutters into the barrels) would lose water during heavy rain because it was undersized.  Not a problem on one of those days where it rains all day but quick heavy downpours would lose a high percentage of water.
New rainbarrel container (left) and new water intake system (top)

So this week the rain barrel system was revamped and water capacity increased to over 500 gallons.  Friends of our son were moving and had a giant bait tank container ... around 250 gallons I believe, that they needed to get rid of.  So it didn't cost us a penny.  All it needed was a coat of dark paint to keep algae from forming inside the tank.   This should supply enough water for most of the Bee Farm's needs.  While modifying the plumbing to accommodate the large tank I decided to completely redo the water intake system so it would branch out and feed into two tanks instead of one to accommodate heavy rainstorms. All the tanks are linked so this will be much more efficient. 
freshly planted seeds

It was graduation week for a lot of the little seedlings in the nursery and a new class of future seedlings was added to the greenhouse.  It's fun to keep adding plants to the Bee Farm and experiment with different seeds.  I get some of our seeds from the Safety Harbor library which has a free seed program.

In other news, don't wander too close to the compost pile. (click play below)

pests in the compost pile

Monday, March 7, 2016

Protector of the Blueberries

As the blueberries ripen a big concern around the garden is losing them to birds.  Someone told us that they heard birds can wipe out a blueberry patch in a short period of time.  Besides running fishing line above the plants which would be very time consuming, we came up with the idea of putting a fake owl overlooking the blueberries to discourage curious birds.  I just hope it doesn't deter the band of little birds that are always hopping around between my plants munching on the bugs.  These little birds really do a nice job and are a joy to watch as they go about their business.
See if you can spot the Owl scarecrow in this picture

The Florida Bee Farm's irrigation system has completely failed as the water pump needs to be replaced.  This water pump has been nothing but trouble and recently is overheating and stopping.  When your goal is consistent reliable water to the plants, a pump that randomly shuts down is not an option.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Blueberries and Bees

Lately there's plenty of activity at The Florida Bee Farm around the blueberry plants.  And there's many different types of bees buzzing around the blueberry flowers.  Bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees from our apiary and a couple bee types I wasn't sure of.  While watching a large Carpenter bee on a bud I noticed a couple smaller bees buzzing the Carpenter bee and even bumping into it a few times.  There was plenty of blueberries to go around so not sure what the bee anger was all about. 

Some of the smaller blueberry plants even have unripe blueberries already.  It looks like we'll have a nice harvest of blueberries this year with over 20 mature plants.

Carpenter bee enjoying the blueberry buds

Blueberries formation

Monday, February 29, 2016

Tea time ....

Compost tea and Epson salt tea is probably a big factor why the plants at the Florida Bee Farm are so healthy.  The system can efficiently deliver large amounts of compost and epson salt tea to all the plants.  It's been a work in progress and does have a few bugs to work out.  There is a good amount of sediment in compost tea so it runs through a filter because we don't want the drip irrigation system to get all mucked up with clogged sprinkler/irrigation heads.  And therein lies the problem. 

After running for a bit, the system begins to lose pressure.  When I remove and wash the filter, pressure comes back but it doesn't take long before the filter is clogged again.  This is a problem that needs to be figured out.  So in the meantime I remove the filter and turn on the pump to route the compost tea into the garden hose.  Walking through the gardens and using a hose to apply the compost tea is the next best option for compost tea application.  It doesn't take too long although it's not as easy as allowing it to flow directly through the irrigation system.

After making and delivering the compost tea, the barrel gets washed out and then marries back into the rain collection system to collect rainwater.  When I'm ready to make another batch of compost or epson salt tea all the other barrel's valves get shut off and the tea barrel is ready for another batch and conveniently fresh rain water is already loaded in that barrel and ready to go.

Epson salt tea work without clogging the irrigation system's filter and makes adding epson salts to the plants a breeze.  The system is working pretty good but still needs a few tweaks.
Aquarium bubbler used to aerate the compost

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Radish's potatoes, mint and Elvis

Nothing says romance like Elvis impersonators at the State Fair
Being the sentimental guy that I am, our romantic valentines day celebration consisted of going to the State Fair and seeing the Elvis impersonators and Budweiser Clydesdale's.  Top that valentine.  The State Fair had many agricultural and 4H club displays.  At one display, the kids were giving away little plastic bags with cotton balls with some radish seeds.  Since my wife likes radish's, she gladly accepted one and gave them to me to plant.  That was several weeks ago.

sprouting radishes

radishes new home
So today while rummaging around the shed looking for something I noticed the little bag with the cotton ball.  Somehow it accumulated a few drops of moisture in the little bag and the radish seeds were starting to grow inside the bag.  So the cotton ball was removed from the bag and all the little seedlings were separated from the cotton and planted.
newly planted potatoes

Another new addition to the Florida Bee Farm and a long shot in my mind are potatoes.  I was recently at a Farmers market and talking to a guy selling organic potatoes.  He happened to have a few potatoes that were starting to sprout that he had under the display because he didn't think any customers would want them.  He gave them to me for purchasing a pound of good organic potatoes.  That worked out perfect because you need organic potatoes for planting because the ones in the supermarkets are sprayed with an anti-sprouting spray to keep the potatoes from sprouting eyes.   Another reason for eating organic.

The potatoes had quite a few eyes already sprouting on them so they were cut into many pieces that all had an eye.  And then placed in large pots with a small amount of dirt on top.  As the plants grow you're supposed to keep mounding dirt on top.  I've heard only a few varieties grow in Florida so this may or may not take as the guy at the Farmers market had no idea what type of potatoes they were.  Since I'm the lucky guy it's worth a try.
relocated sweet mint

While reading some gardening tips today, I noticed people discussing growing mint.  The consensus was that you should put mint in a shady location with plenty of water.  My mint was not doing well in a sunny area so our barely surviving mint plants were transplanted into pots and put into a shady spot after a heavy watering.  Must have mint for Mojitos.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Indian Rocks Co-Op

Once again I was away from the Bee Farm on another everglades sailing trip.  Upon my return I noticed a group of tomato plants that looked pretty thirsty.   Checking the irrigation system revealed one zone that was inadvertently switched off !  How very frustrating it was because it was simply due to rushing a job to hurry home and pack for the trip (which was put off until the last minute).

One of the tomato plants was heavy with fruit so when it weakened from lack of water it collapsed on it's stems.  That plant may not make it.  The other plants were better supported by their tomato cages and will probably be ok even though a few lost leaves and stems.  Needless to say on Monday morning all plants received  extra water rations.

The good news is the tomatoes are starting to take off and we listed eggplant and some tomatoes with the Indian Rocks Co-Op.    Plus there were plenty of garden fresh tomatoes to accompany me on the trip to the everglades where our group eats well and shares so much food that we all probably gain weight on the trip. 
The Indian Rocks Co-Op will be selling our excess produce and it looks like a good source of fresh veggies.  We'll be ordering from them as well as selling.  As people learn more and more about how big agriculture poisons our food, co-ops and healthy organic vegetables and food will continue to be more popular.

As they say, you are what you eat and last night was such a delight using a half dozen of these delicious heirloom tomatoes and several extra large Black Krim tomatoes (not shown) which are just starting to turn red.  The flavor is amazing.  We diced the tomatoes and added to a large pan of thinly sliced onions, lots of garlic and some white wine.  A little cream, salt, pepper and pasta .... heavenly and just one more reason I'm the lucky guy.  
Rutger tomatoes

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Morning pictures

Since it's been much too busy to post a blog post lately I snapped several pictures around the Florida Bee Farm gardens this morning. 
pineapples and blueberries

Newest growing area

The nursery with all the baby plants

Moringa, Fennel, strawberries, bananas, and sugar cane

Honey Bee Garden

Honey Bee Garden

Spoiled honey bees with shaded luxury suites in the apiary

Banyan tree

Everything's growing like crazy

Florida Green house

Irrigation barrels and compost tea

Bernard the watch lion

Retired battle droid contemplating life after the clone wars