Yesterday Elodie took some fantastic pictures of both honeybees and native bees visiting the apple trees blossoms. The blossoms are in full bloom now which are gorgeous and smell heavenly but tomorrow night (Wednesday) and Thursday night is supposed to get in the high 20’s at night which is a real bummer because the cold will probably knock off the blossoms and that will be the end of our apple season again… Meanwhile let’s enjoy these great pictures while we have them.
Here is Dorothy in the middle of a comb being attended to by the other bees.
When we had the micro burst of wind happen last week, we found our queen bee, (promptly named Dorothy because her house was turned upside down), outside the hive. I quickly picked her up on a bar that was tossed to the ground and she seemed ok. Queen bees are very delicate and can get easily injured so we worried that she might not be able to lay eggs even though she appeared fine. Yesterday, Elodie and I inspected the hive and she is truly fine.
Look! We found eggs which means she is not damaged and the other bees will be capping them soon. They are in the comb-notice they look like tiny grains of rice. We are so relieved because a hive without a working queen is a doomed hive and the hive could not survive as the queen keeps the continuum going with the hive. Since the worker bees only live about 6 weeks, it is the queens only job-laying eggs, making brood so more bees can be born to keep the hive going!
Yesterday I was planting vegetables in the greenhouse, when this huge micro burst of wind came and almost tore the window shutters off of the greenhouse. Afterwards, I inspected the shutters that were slapping so violently to see if the hinges were damaged. Luckily they were ok. Then I decided to check on the new bees we had just put into a hive on Sunday. The hive got turned almost upside down with all the topbars, bees, honey and sugar-water thrown on the ground behind it. I called Elodie and she came and together we put them back in. I tried to quickly put all of them back in because the queen was already out of her cage and I needed to find out if she was dead or alive. The queen was in that pile on the ground and luckily she was surrounded by thousands of other bees and I found her running around on one of the combs we had supplied. How lucky is that?! She looks fine and I hope she is not damaged or she will not lay any eggs. I’ve named her Dorothy after the Wizard of Oz when she and her house got thrown around in a tornado. I will check in a few days to see that she has started laying eggs, otherwise we will have to get another queen. Keep your fingers crossed that Dorothy is ok…
It’s been a very busy summer for me. I’ve been preparing for my tour here on the property since spring. Nothing like having people over to get things done. I’ve had a punch list that I’ve chipped away at and finally got almost all of them done before last weekend when I had an educational tour for the Santa Fe Master Gardeners of my little Artisan Farm here in Santa Fe. Between the Home Grown Kitchen Garden & Coop Tour (different tour the week before) and my tour last weekend, I’ve pretty much been headless all summer. Now it’s all over and I can get back to a more normal pace. But wait, I’m getting ready to go to the SF Farmer’s Market! Always something. I guess I can rest in the winter! Here are some pictures of my Artisan Farm tour last weekend. The garden looks the best ever…
This year I was able to harvest (13) 5 oz jars of honey from my hive. This was from the same hive that went on sharp decline in June when I lost my queen (she disappeared) and I had to re-queen for the hive to survive. I had bought a new queen to try to save the hive and the remaining bees in the hive had her lay an egg in a queen cell they built and then raised their own queen and killed the queen I bought. Oh cruel world! But they knew better, as the queen they raised has been an unbelievable egg layer and brought the hive back from the brink of disaster. (see story here)
Which brings me to my harvest. The hive with her leading, came back from 2 bars with barely any bees on them to 17 bars loaded with brood and honey-and all since June which is phenomenal! The rule for beekeepers is to always leave enough honey for the bees to get through winter and then we harvest the rest. In our cold climate in Santa Fe, my teacher, Les Crowder says we should leave 12 bars of brood and honey for them to get through winter but I left 14 bars this year in case we have a long winter, harvesting 3 bars of honey only. If they don’t use it all, I can take the honey after the flowers come in spring (assuming the flowers do come).
This is last year’s honey in 2012. It was lighter than this year’s honey.
This year’s color was very different from last year. Last year we didn’t get a lot of flowers because of the drought and I had to feed them some sugar-water to the end of August to subsidize them and the honey I harvested was very light in color because we only got mainly chamisa flowers in the fall. This year I fed them a little in spring but stopped once the rains came and we had many different flowers all summer than the previous year which resulted in an amber colored honey with slightly stronger taste than last year on my property.
2013-Here is my honey on the left, Sara’s honey in the middle and Bob’s honey on the right
It’s interesting because my friend Sara had light-colored honey this year while another friend, Bob had darker honey-even darker than mine so where you live, even in Santa Fe, can affect what your honey will be like. We like to trade so we can taste each others honey to see how they differ.
Bee on a borage flower—Photo courtesy of Elodie Holmes
I went into my one and only topbar hive today to see how the ‘girls’ were doing and am thrilled to report that they have 18 bars-10 full of honey, 1 bar being built and 7 full of brood. They look to be in really good shape for winter. I didn’t see the queen today as I was in a hurry but that was ok as there was lots of capped brood and larva in those 7 bars and lots of activity with the bees coming in and out of the hive carrying in pollen and nectar.
Around my property right now native plants such as Apache plume, chamisa and asters are all blooming and the bees are loving them. Plus my Russian sage, catmint, spireas, lavender, honeysuckles, Datura, borage and my out of control, drought tolerant silver lace vine (all over my fences) is full of little flowers and the bees are loving all of them as well. I’d say they are truly ‘busy as a bee’.
I can’t tell you how happy and grateful I am for this to have happened as this past June I almost lost all of my bees. Nothing is worse or more depressing for a beekeeper than to not have any bees! My queen had disappeared after winter sometime in late spring, and I suddenly discovered I had only 2 bars with a few hundred bees roaming around aimlessly, not knowing what to do without a queen. I had two friends, Bob Z and Les Crowder each give me 1 bar of brood so the hive could survive until I got a new queen acclimated to the remaining bees. The surviving bees had the new queen lay an egg in a couple of queen cells they made to supersede the queen I bought. This process is called ‘supersedure’ which is the bees way of replacing an existing queen in the hive with a new queen without a beekeeper’s interference. They obviously wanted to raise their own queen instead of accepting the one I bought. The queen I bought ‘disappeared’ and a new queen of their choosing emerged and took over. The rest is history. She has been one kick-ass queen to build up her hive so big in such a short time. I just hope no bear will come by this far south but they are always worrisome in the fall and one has been seen not too far away. I’ll keep my fingers crossed it doesn’t come my way.
I went and checked the bees out today. I haven’t gone through the whole hive since last October although I did check them out in March just to see if they had enough honey-they did. Now that the fair is over I actually had some time to catch up on a few things and the bees were definitely on my mind. I wanted to check out the hive to see how they were doing. I saw a fair amount of drone cells, not many worker bee cells, maybe a start of a few queen cells- maybe not but their thinking about it) and a lot of busy bees. As usual I couldn’t find Houdini (the queen). I named her that last year as she is very good at hiding from me! I worry a little since I didn’t see a lot of brood cells so I will be watching closely and will check it out in a week. Perhaps a bunch just hatched as there were so many out and about. I also saw lots of bees at Caleb’s hive (which died in February) and was wondering if mine were swarming but upon inspection, my bees were after his hive’s crystallized honey although there wasn’t a lot. So I cleaned up his whole hive, took off much of the old comb and swept out all the bees that had died. I left the old combs out on top of the hive for the bees to clean out the honey since they seemed so interested. Now that hive is clean and ready if a swarm comes by!
This week I will also put together a new beehive that Elodie’s brother, Mark built for me. Pictures will be forthcoming!
It is now almost January but I must share something that is very exciting for a first year beekeeper. I was able to harvest 12 jars of honey last fall from 3.5 bars of honeycomb before I put the bees to bed for winter last October. I still left them 14 bars full of honey and brood to survive the winter which should be more than enough food for them. This was my first year with Italian honeybees. I put them in an empty topbar hive (there is one more established topbar hive with Russian honeybees on the property that I didn’t take any honey from this year). The Italian girls did spectacular, producing many bars of honey for the first year in a rather dismal year for flowers and nectar. Molto Bene! I started them from a 4 lb package of bees I received last April and I did subsidize their food for a bit while they established their hive to give them a good start and I think it helped them kick ass later. That plus having my huge veggie garden for them to visit and I grew many flowers that they like such as borage, zinnias and waves of sunflowers. I also have developed ‘bee gardens’ in other parts of the property with drought tolerant plants that bees like for nectar. My new motto is ‘to only plant new perennials that the honeybees like’.
The bees are located on the back half of the property so after walking out to their hives, I opened it up and cut off the bars of comb loaded with honey, (you must leave the combs with brood in the hive for the bees). Then I put the combs into a 5 gallon bucket, put the lid on (the bees will try to get it) and took the combs up to the house. I crushed up the combs with a potato masher and strained the honey about a day and a half through a kitchen colander into a big bowl to get as much of the honey as possible. Then I re-strained the honey with some fine muslin to take out any impurities. Afterwards I poured the honey into the jars which you can see above. The beautiful jars are Bormioli Rocco Quattro Stagioni (wow-that’s quite a mouthful!) and can be bought from Amazon here. How appropriate! Italian jars for Italian bee honey! My good friend Mernie turned me on to them.
My bee teacher, Les Crowder from For the Love of Bees, a bee master whom I studied with this year told us in class that we could take the leftover comb wax which is still sticky with some honey (that won’t drain out) and put it outside and the bees will take any leftover honey from it. So I put the sticky wax on a cookie sheet and left it outside by the bees water source. (If you are new to topbar beekeeping and live in New Mexico, I highly recommend Les Crowder as you will learn so much from him and gain lots of confidence in handling bees.)
Within one hour they started visiting it.
By 2 hours I could barely see the wax-there were so many bees on it.
Within 2 days they had cleaned up the wax so thoroughly that it was no longer sticky and they were no longer interested in it as they had taken all the remaining honey from it.
I put the cleaned wax in a plastic baggie until I decide what to do with it (the bees won’t reuse the wax). Since these combs were new this year, the wax is a beautiful whitish-golden color. Older combs turn brown or black as they get older.
I checked the new bees yesterday on day 7 and they have 3.5 combs built already with lots filled with the sugar water nectar I feed them. We are supposed to feed them for (I think a month) to offer support as they establish their hive which is good as we are not into the nectar flow out this way yet.
At first I couldn’t find the queen, even with a bright yellow dot on her (you can get the queen marked for easier ID). I mean how hard could this be on only 3 combs but I couldn’t see her. It took me 3 times of looking at the combs (both sides) before I finally spotted her. For a moment I thought she was gone, died or left but no finally there she was. They were hiding her!
So what are bees doing in a gardening blog? Why am I writing about them? Well, bees and gardens go hand in hand. Without bees we wouldn’t have our crops. They pollinate over 90% of all food crops in the world. So please bear (oh oh, bad word for bees) with me while I get another hive established on the property. I’ve learned so much from Caleb and his hive this past year and I’m very excited to get my own. I hope this year is better for the bees than last year. We need more rain this summer.
Wednesday we received our bees and put them in their new diggs (I mean home—I mean hive). Caleb came over early (7am) and realized the stand for the hive was too tall for me (he’s like 6′ 4″ and I’m 5′ 6″) and needed to be cut down so off he went back to his shop to work on it. Meanwhile the bees were delivered to our shop, Liquid Light Glass, (all quarter million of them!) and were surprisingly quiet. I think they liked the warm ‘hot shop’ after being in a cold truck. First we called everyone on our list to make sure they would get picked up that day. Then Caleb dropped off the stand and I went back to the ranch with the stand and the bees. I set up and leveled the stand and hive (bees like their homes on level ground, just like us) while the bees buzzed crankily in their little shipping shoebox’ box (they did not like the ride on the dirt road). So I let them calm down before taking them over to their new topbar hive. We decided to put them in later in the day so they would have overnite to adjust to their new diggs. Caleb came out to make sure I did it correctly and Elodie took pictures of the ‘bee installation’. Amazing success and no one got stung!
Tomorrow the bees are coming! That means about 240,000 bees will be arriving at the studio! Hopefully they will arrive around 9am INTACT. Of course they are not all mine but 15 total orders are on my order and Mike Masse has an extra 5 packages in his order. Honeybee genetics where we all bought them has ganged all the packages together and has used our studio address to deliver them to. The new owners of these bees will be coming and picking up their bees throughout the day. I have one package out of the 15. Each package weighs 4 lbs and there is about 3000 bees per pound so each package has about 12,000 bees to help all us budding or established beekeepers get our hives started. Caleb is coming out with my hive and stand at 7 am to place it on our predetermined site and then we will go to the studio to pick up the beezzzz to pick them up and then back out to the property to place them in their new home. Can’t wait!!
Sunday I took my first official bee class (Intro to beekeeping) with Les Crowder. Mind you I’ve learned a lot in the past year with Caleb and his bees but I want to get more information and experience. Les is a professional top bar beekeeper with 30 years experience who also instructs. We all got to handle the bars with bees on them, find the queen and drones, pet the bees, and even divided a hive that was getting ready to swarm. The class was fantastic! Can’t wait till the next class: Spring Hive Maintenance. The class couldn’t have come too soon- tomorrow the bees come!
Fact: Of the 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees. Without them, we would soon starve. We need to be educated and take care to not poison bees with pesticides and herbicides. We need to protect the bees.
Just saw ‘Queen of the Sun’, a movie about bees and their plight and our plight in the world-Excellent movie. The movie won 8 awards at film festivals. Since I now have a bee hive on the property, I want to take care of them and their beekeeper, Caleb is going to teach me through the year. In return I hope they pollinate everything! Bees and gardening go hand in hand.
Along the same lines, believe it or not, I just saw an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ called ‘The Burns and the Bees’ that was addressing the bees problems and it was great! It was done in 2008. The bees are getting some press-even in a cartoon. Hope as humankind gets educated, the bees make a comeback!
In the meantime, grow some flowers and especially grow some sunflowers this year for any bees that may visit your garden. Sunflowers are not only beautiful to look at but the bees like them as well. Also grow a succession of flowering plants through the whole growing season such as Russian Sage, Lavender, Asters, Black-Eyed Susan, Penstemon, Zinnias and Agastaches. These are a few of many flowering plants they love. You want lots of vegetables this year? Well, then help the bees find your vegetables by planting some flowers in your garden that they like. Also look at what pesticides and herbicides affect bee populations and avoid them.
For 2 years I’ve been waiting for one of my beekeeping friends to bring over one of their hives but no one had any extra bees or top bar hive to bring. I’ve wanted bees to help with pollination in my veggie garden and thought what a great relationship that would bee. My friends get space to put their hive and I get pollinators. I promise not to use chemicals that will harm the bees and will give them water. I didn’t think I would be interested in bees that much. I don’t want to take care of more things. I’m already overloaded. I just want pollinators and they can do the beekeeping thing. But still, I’ve wanted them.
closeup top bar hive this morning
So last week I was ecstatic when Caleb, a friend of mine, told me he would move his hive here to the garden area. Finally. Yea! I’ve been waiting with great excitement all week for him to come not quite knowing what to expect. Caleb is a 3 year beekeeper and I can tell by the way he talks about his bees that he’s good and he cares about them. Yea, like children-all 10,000 of them! (the hive will grow to around 50,000 this summer)
Yesterday afternoon he came over and scoped out the property to see where he wanted to keep his bees. He picked out a lovely site that was nestled in some trees facing southeast (that is the direction they want to fly out in the morning) plus they will get protection from the hot west sun and wind this summer. They would be within 50 feet of the vegetable garden. Excellent! He decided to put the top bar hive up on a stand he built. He dug a hole at the site and buried his stand so the top bar hive won’t blow away during our high wind periods. Then we had dinner and off he went to pick up his bees at sunset after they came home to the hive.
water for bees
While he was gone, I brought down a bowl of water and put some twigs halfway in it so the bees can walk down the twigs to get to the water. Caleb said you have to move bees at night because when they come out in the morning they will have to recalibrate their internal GPS so they can find the hive again by the end of day. He came back an hour after dark and he had the top bar hive with the bees inside covered with a towel in the back of his truck. They were upset about the bumpy ride on our dirt road. How do we know? Because they were LOUD! They were humming loudly and sounded upset-no actually they sounded pissed. Glad the towel was covering the hive. So he let them settled down and once they were quiet he picked up the box and with flashlights we took them to their new place. After we got there and Caleb attached the top bar to the stand, a few bees came out just inside their entry hole to check it out but they stayed in. Wonder what the neighbors thought last night with us walking all over the property with flashlights carrying a coffinlike box! I’ll have to show them the bees!
First bee out on top of top bar hive exploring it's new surroundings
This morning was cold (about 38°F) so only a few of the bees came out to explore. While I’m working, they will come out when it is warmer. I hope they like their new property!
Later today, Caleb will come back and put up some plywood to protect the hive from rain (hah! fat chance of that) and he needs to put on their ‘porch’ that they like to land on when entering or leaving the hive. I wonder if bees have an air traffic controller for take offs and landings?! Perhaps they do have an air traffic controller. Perhaps our traffic controllers could learn a thing or two from their traffic controllers. I can see this is gonna be fun! I’m learning a lot from Caleb. Bees are fascinating creatures with an incredibly structured society. Caleb said they can follow the sun even when it is on the other side of the earth with their GPS-how cool is that?! Looks like I’m going to need a bee hood soon to learn more..