Of course bees have knees! Any idea what this phrase means? You probably never wondered, did you? I did, well, because I love bees and all. According to the interwebs, the phrase “bee’s knees” means sweet and good, because the knees of the bee are where all the sweet, good stuff is collected. As in, this is where the pollen baskets are on their legs and this is where the all the good stuff (other than nectar) is collected when they hit up all of the different flowers and such. So, the weather, the happenings, the overall mood on the homestead right now, is the bee’s knees!
Yay! It’s May! It smells so good when I go outside it is ridiculous! Honeysuckle is a major yummy one happening still along with so many other amazing fragrances. We have planted lavender for the bees too so that is starting to tickle our noses too! So true to form, April showers have brought May flowers and that means there is a honey flow going on around these parts!! Huh? There’s honey flowing somewhere? It actually just means that there is an abundance of nectar so the bees are busy making honey! That also means I no longer have to feed the bees as there is enough out in nature to give them full bellies! It also means they are so much further along than they were this time last year. Of course it helped that we were able to put fully drawn frames, some with honey, into each hive from the beginning. Why is this helpful, you ask? I am happy to tell you! Since the frames were already drawn out, they don’t have to spend their time drawing out frames with wax for the queen to lay in or for them to have cells to put nectar and pollen in as they are already there! By draw out, I mean they make honey comb on the plastic foundations on the frames. I haven’t tried putting in frames without foundation yet (this is where you get the honeycomb that you see in the jar with the honey) but since this is a year of experimentation with the bees, I am sure it will happen! I also didn’t have to feed them as much because they had some stores to eat on, too. I did start off with the normal entrance feeders with mason jars, but after a couple of ideas ended up reusing our old chicken waterers for feeders. They worked really well because they are 3 gallons and that means I didn’t have to keep filling up jars. I put some river stone in the troughs so they had something to stand on and hopefully wouldn’t drown. Initially, I would make 2 gallons of sugar syrup at a time and it got a little tiresome refilling four quart jars every couple of days. I actually only had to fill the new feeders once. I am now using them just for water since I don’t need the sugar syrup any longer. Just like all things living, bees need access to water. That is why you will have a lot of bees that take advantage of swimming pools (and unfortunately tend to drown in them because there is nothing for them to land on to drink). We let the bees do their thing for two weeks after I installed them and then we added a deep box to one, a honey super (medium box) to one, frames to the horizontal and the new FlowHive to the last one. We left those alone for another two weeks and we just inspected last Sunday and were so excited!! The Hubs joined me and did all the work! He did awesome, of course, and only got stung once. Really, if you are going to be a beekeeper, you have to go ahead and get that first sting out of the way. So, he is officially in the beekeeper club now. OMG look at all of those beautiful bees!!
Sunday’s inspection was so exciting because the bees were just so busy, calm and there were so many of them! That means we have great laying queens. Once a box has roughly 75-80% of the frames drawn and full of brood/pollen/honey you want to add more boxes to give them space. Some people put on another brood box before they add honey boxes and some just add honey boxes. We did both. A brood box is basically where you have all the brood (remember, the brood=babies) and the honey boxes are generally just for honey. Sometimes the queen will move up into the honey boxes but hopefully she won’t. If they have enough frames to put honey on, they will use the frames in the brood box just for brood and not honey. Now, most frames with brood will have some honey on the tops of the frame for them to eat, but if you can keep them from having to store full frames of honey they can use those frames for brood and have plenty of room. When they don’t have plenty of room for brood, they will find somewhere else that does and that somewhere else is usually in a tree. When you got bees in a tree rather than in your box, you have a swarm. When they swarm, they take the original queen and more than half of the colony with them. While they are sweet and create a new queen to stay in the hive with the ones that got left behind, this new queen will be a virgin queen and won’t lay any eggs until she goes on her mating flight and even then it will take a couple of weeks for her to start laying which leads to a 3 more weeks to wait for new bees to emerge and so on…so, if you have a swarm that you don’t catch and put back in, your better hope your new queen is as good as her momma and you probably don’t want to expect honey this year. In areas of the world that get crazy cold, long winters, usually they use two deep brood boxes so that they can make sure they have plenty of bees to keep everyone warm enough for long enough over winter. We put on a second brood box because we had one that had drawn frames and thought, hey, let’s use it and see what happens! Whew! That is a lot of information! Hopefully you care. It’s ok if you just kind of skimmed through it thinking, what? What in the world is she talking about? I didn’t need all of that information. But just think, maybe you could use some of this at a cocktail party to wow your friends! Here is the original set up with the first picture being the Horizontal Hive and the Deep brood box hive and the second two pictures showing the two deep brood box hives in the orchard:
We ended up adding a medium box to the double deep, another medium to the other hive that is by the barn and a medium to the FlowHive in the orchard. We didn’t have to add frames to the horizontal hive because some of the frames we added two weeks ago were not drawn all of the way so they had more work to do! We changed the game plan with the FlowHive a bit so as to add a medium honey super in between the deep brood box and the FlowHive. Why? Based upon last years dismal result and not having any honey supers to leave on for winter, I thought it would make sense to give them a honey super to fill up so that I can leave that on the hive all year to give them honey for winter. The whole point of the FlowHive is so that you can harvest the honey without taking the box off the hive and they just refill it and you don’t have to disturb them to do it. However, you don’t want them to put brood in it just because of the design of it. So, because bees tend to move up during winter into the box with food, if I just had the FlowHive on it they would move into the FlowHive and hang out until the queen started laying again at about the end of February and then there would be brood and pollen and such in there and quite a mess to clean out. So, I wanted to be able to harvest the FlowHive as many times as I could and still leave them with a box o honey for winter. Plus, the queen generally (as always there are those exceptional queens that just won’t play by the rules and we do love them don’t we?) won’t go through a honey box into another box to lay eggs. So now that you are completely confused, here is the second set up at least in the orchard (alas, I for some reason did not take pictures of the ones down below before we added the new boxes, so if you look at the of the Hubs holding the frame, you will see that it is a medium frame which came from the first super on the one down by the barn and just imagine it with a red box that looks like the brown box here):
There is an observation window on the FlowHive super so you can see if they are working it and you open the back to expose the are where you harvest honey! Here is a peak of the innards of the FlowHive:
The FlowHive Frames are unique and the bees have to fill the cracks with propolis and wax before they can be filled with honey. Once they fill the cells with honey and cap it then you harvest it from the back which is the last picture Once it’s ready for harvest, I will show you!
And here is what they look like now:
Not only are the bees going cra cra (that saying is still hip, right?), but so is the garden! I have already harvested 15 tons of lettuce, spinach, swiss chard and kale. I have already added 6 more swiss chard plants that I have harvested from. We have harvested a gazillion radishes and have plucked up some awesome asparagus and amazingly large heads of broccoli. We have planted zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, peas, lima beans and corn. We are waiting for the rhubarb, brussels sprouts, beets,and carrots which will be the next things to harvest. I don’t think we had this much producing this early last year, but I will go back and read this blog and find out! I have sautéed about 6 quart bags worth of swiss chard and kale so that we will have plenty of it this fall and winter when I get a craving for it and I can’t just walk out to the garden and pluck it out! I just used a little, well, ok a lot of garlic and some olive oil and cooked it down! So yummy! I still have a little uncooked frozen kale from last year, but I usually use that in soup. I have also made tow huge batches of an amazing greek kale salad. Loving the fresh greens!
How are those adorable chickens you ask? They are doing great! We are back up to Spring laying which means about 14-18 eggs per day! We got a. lot. of. eggs. We have finally ordered 15 Black Austrolorp chicks that will be here the first week of June. We will wait until they are of laying age this winter before we cull the current flock. We have returned the chicken tractor to the garage so we can put them in it once they are a couple of months old and we can get them out of the garage as soon as we can. Wow they put off a lot of dander and feathers! The garage was covered with it when we moved the last ones out! Since it will be warm we can keep them outside this time in the tractor until they are ready to be moved into the regular runs with the current flock. We had such high hopes in using that chicken tractor, but since we didn’t fix the tire issue and therefore it was not easily moveable, it just sat by the chicken run growing grass in it. We put the full power of the tractor (the actual drivable one) to use and moved it backup to the garage. These are the new chickas that will be joining our flock! This isn’t a picture of the actual ones, but you knew that, right?
The weather has been so beautiful, I have been trying to spend lots of time outside doing more than just working on the homestead. The canines enjoy a nice sunny day just as much as me and I have been able to get some great pictures of them!
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of awesomeness here on the ole homestead. We have had some very productive days and some relaxing days, too. I tell you what, this Spring so far has really been the bees’ knees!