Monday, July 30, 2012

Honey Bees

Beekeeping is sweet. Twenty years ago, we had up to 10 hobby hives at one time. Back then we got started with bees by capturing free swarms to start our hives. We are planning to work with bees again, a first for our northern homestead. So we revive the hobby again. Double sweet.

The process of working with animals is fascinating. We enjoyed searching out the queen bee and watching the entire colony interactions. We even created an observation hive, a three frame hive in our dining room. It was glassed on both sides, and one frame thick, so you could easily watch the bees and the queen.

2012 Experience

Today (April 24) we installed our bees, and they are doing great. The weather was sunny and temps in the lower 60's. We got a call at 7 am that the truck was 30 mins out, and to meet them at our pickup location. We got there just before the box truck pulling a trailer eased in behind us. They had driven non-stop from Florida and the vehicle was packed full of bees. Our stop was the fourth for them, and they had two more to go.

We had ordered 2 nucs, and they were at the top of the stack. The rest were packages of bees in the load. We helped them unload the 50 packages for this dropoff location, and then gently headed home with 50,000 girls in the back seat.

Two boys watching the bees. How fun!
Normally when you install a package of bees, they are calm, as they do not have a "hive" to protect. They are just happy to get out of the box and into a normal hive. I found that installing a nuc is not the same. I spritzed them with sugar water, but in retrospect I think some smoke would have been better. The 5 frames of the nuc came out ok with a frame extractor, and I was careful to not roll and kill the bees as I extracted the frames and installed them into their new home. You set the frame in with some space to spare, and then slide it up close to the nearby frame. We were able to locate the queen bee in both hives, so that was nice to be able to see them! The nucs have a good brood pattern, and we saw several new workers hatching out as we inspected the frames.

When the nuc box was empty of frames there remained several hundred bees hanging inside. I gave the box a rap onto the hive box to knock them out. That just made them MAD. They came out with stingers barred. I was expecting very docile behavior, but these guard bees meant serious business. They did have an active hive to defend. Within moments we were all running and wishing we had tightened down the access points of our clothing. I had bees inside my bee hat and veil, inside my shirt pockets and inside my shirt. Our dog was a victim as well. She was standing nearby and soon was a bee target, and she ran with good reason as we all retreated. The wiser, we approached the second hive with more preparation and better clothing.

One of the nucs was bulging at the seams with bees, the other was mostly full, but not crowded. As soon as we set them up the workers were out and looking for pollen and nectar. There was no wasting time looking around at the "new house." They got to work! We could see streams of bees coming in with pollen sacs on their back legs loaded with bright yellow pollen. It is fun to see them have something local to enjoy on their first day in their new home.

July 4, 2012 update: The bees have been busy! We have added a hive body a little faster than 1 per month. We are now at 4 hive bodies on each hive, and the bees are bringing in loads of nectar. We have entire hive bodies full of capped honey. In the two upper bodies on each hive, we have placed 9 frames, and spaced them evenly with a 9-frame spacer tool. This allows the bees to draw the comb out a little longer per frame. This is beneficial for honey extraction, as there are 2 less sides to uncap per hive body for the same total volume of honey obtained.

July 26, 2012 update: The bees have filled all four large hive bodies. Rather than go up and make the stack 5 bodies tall, I chose to remove some of the super honey frames, and replace them with new frames of un-drawn foundation. We have pulled 24 full sized frames, capped on both sides of honey. It is a lot of honey, and we will be extracting this first batch in a few days. The honey flow seems to be continuing even through the heat and drought. Lots of bee activity each day!

July 30, 2012 update: We extracted the honey from the 24 full sized frames using our 9 frame radial extractor, and obtained 12 gallons of honey.

Colony members
  1. Queen - her primary duty is to lay eggs, around 1500 a day. She also secretes pheremones that keep the workers happy. Queen bees can live for 3-7 years. A queen will emerge from a queen cell in 16 days.
  2. Drones - the drones only duty is to fly out and mate with a queen. I believe queens need only mate once. Drones take 24 days to emerge from the drone cell.
  3. Workers - as the name implies, the workers do all of the work. They are non-fertile female bees and they have a very structured life from the moment they emerge from their cocoons. Throughout their life they will serve as nursery bees, construction bees, storage bees, guard bees and foraging bees. They live, on average, only 20-30 days from the time they emerge from cocoon. The time from egg to capping is 9 days, and the bee will emerge in a total of 21 days.

Hive construction

I have removed swarms from hollow logs and under houses. Bees can enter a hole and build a hive within a wall (making extraction difficult.) While bees can make their own home, it is more convenient for them to have the bee keeper construct a hive to their exact preferences. Bee hives, or boxes, have a specific size, and are slotted to hold the frames, suspended from a ledge at the top of the box. This gives the bees free access to the frames. The frames are "started" with a foundation sheet, imprinted with the honey comb pattern, and it jump starts the bees into comb production in an organized way.

Bees rear their young, and store honey and pollen in the wax comb, so it is a wonderful multipurpose structure.

I found it easier to purchase tools and hive parts and assemble the hives myself. If you have wood working tools, I don't think it would be difficult to construct the wood parts from scratch, but I would still suggest following the time proven patterns that bees prefer. If you wanted a home based business, producing hive parts could be a viable small income option.

The bee box is made of wood, painted on the outside and left bare on the inside. The bee box comes in three heights, the 12" box and the 6" super (or honey box) and I have seen reference to an even smaller height box. I used 12" boxes through out my bee system. A hive body full of honey (wood parts plus honey) can weigh 80 lbs. The 6" super would weigh in at around 40 lbs, and would be easier to lug around. My view was that if I can handle the weight, it would be half the work and parts, to use the full size or "deep" frames for both brood as well as honey production. The full sized frames yield 40-50 lbs of extracted honey per hive body or super. This yield equals 4-5 gallons of extracted honey per super.

For overwintering, a hive in the north where we live should have two deep hive boxes of honey stores, and they should be checked periodically on warm winter days to make sure they are not running low on honey. It is possible to feed your bees sugar water or sugar candy to keep them alive through the winter.

Protective clothing

You need to assume that you will be stung when working with bees. Generally they don't sting, especially if you do not rush and have a calm spirit when you work with your hives. Bees do crawl, and when they get under your clothing, it can create some excitement. As you move around, you may start to squeeze a bee, who likely was not in the best mood to begin with, resulting in a sting. Excluding the bees from clothing is a good plan. I found them rarely able to sting through denim. I would wear one pair of jeans, double socks, and rubber band the socks outside to the jean legs. Long sleeve flannel shirt, or double shirt. If it was cool I would wear a bulky sweat shirt. Their stingers are not all that long, so you just need to hold them away from your skin a bit. Bee gloves and a bee hat exclude them nicely.


Start up costs

It has been several years since I have worked with bees. I have kept my deep boxes, but other than that, I am basically starting over. When we moved prior, I sold all my frames and bees. My smoker was rusted through, and by bee hat and gloves destroyed by mice. I just placed my order for the needed frames and equipment, totaling around $500.00. I am planning on purchase of 2 nucleus hives at $100 each. If I was starting from scratch, I would guess it would total close to $1000. With that investment, you can start with two active hives, and grow with not much more cost up to 10 hives. In a good year, a hive could offer $400 value in honey.

Time required

Bees generally do very well just being left alone. There are some cases where it is good to know what is going on, but it does not take a lot of time to assess how the hive is doing. If the hive fills all the available space with honey and they need more space for the flow of nectar into the hive, they will prepare to swarm. If left to their own devices, they will swarm, and you will loose a strong productive hive. You would check for disease, pests, and queen cells signaling a coming swarm. A good management practice is to inspect your hives every two weeks. This should only take about 15 minutes per hive. For two hives, that could be an hour a month.

Extracting honey takes more time, but wow, you are richly paid for that time investment! With a few hives, you can definitely work with bees as a hobby. You don't have to be on a strict schedule, and they are busy working while you leave them to their own activities.

Bee Facts
  • It takes 12 bees their entire lives to produce one teaspoon of honey. (web)
  • A honey bee can fly up to 15 miles per hour. (web)
  • A bee will visit 50 - 100 flowers per foraging flight. (web)
  • Bees will visit two million flowers and fly 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey. (web)
  • Bees generally forage within 2 miles of their hive, but could travel further if needed. (web)
  • A teaspoon of honey contains 22 calories (sugar = 18), and a table spoon of honey contains 64 calories (sugar = 46). (web)
  • The queen will lay 1,000 - 2,000 eggs per day with warm temperatures and honey flow. (web)
  • A strong hive will have 70,000 - 100,000 bees. (web)
  • There are around 3,300 individuals in a pound of bees. (web)
  • Bees will fly 150,000 miles, the equivalent of 6 times around the earth, to produce one pound of beeswax. (web)


Varroa mites to a bee are like fleas on a dog. Only the mites do more damage to the overall health of a hive if they get out of control. They are flat, saucer shaped red colored insects that bite under the honey bee scales. Watching the bees it is obvious that the bee is bothered by the mites presence. The bees are sometimes able to flick the mites off, and they fall to the bottom of the hive. There are screens that you can place in the bottom of the hive that will allow the mites to fall through to a sticky pad, trapping them from climbing back up to find a new bee victim, but the screen keeps the bees away from the sticky pad. Treat with 1 cup of powdered sugar all over the tops of the frames (1 cup per deep box). Perform this treatment exactly once a week for three weeks. The bees become covered with this dusty sugar, and so in an effort to clean themselves up, they also clean off the mites.

To address the tracheal mite naturally use a grease patty in the hive. Mix 2 parts powdered sugar with one part Crisco vegetable shortening. You can add a bit of honey-b-healthy or lemon grass oil extract. Compact this mixture between two sheets of wax paper to the size of a hamburger patty and lay on the top bar of each deep brood body. The grease patty cuts the tracheal mite population by disrupting the mite life cycle. It makes it more difficult to for mites to pass from older bees to younger bees either physically or by masking the scent of younger bees. It is ok to leave grease patties in the hive year round.

I once found a mouse carcass in the bottom of a hive. It appeared stung to death, and was encased in the bees propolus glue. Pests best not mess with a strong hive.

Consider working with bees. You will find is a rewarding study, and oh so sweet!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blueberry Pie

Our blueberry plants are doing well. All have survived so far. I can only hope for the future to include a lot of blueberries! We picked / purchased 150 lbs this year. We froze most of them, and canned some as well. Our canning method was unique to us, being recommended by a friend. We took sterile jars, and dry packed them with fresh, cleaned blueberries. We pressed them down as much as we could to completely fill the jar, yet without smashing them. Then place the jars into the oven, and bake at 250 for 30 mins. The berries cook down inside the jars, and the end result is about 1/2 full of canned berries. The jars seal, and stay canned. It is a simple way to preserve blueberries. Sunshine says the skins of the berries are slightly more tough with this method, but the ease of processing makes the method a winner.

With fresh blueberries, I suggest you make a blueberry pie. I just did, and mmmm, good! I got this recipe from Sunshine's sister, so credits to her and thanks for the great recipes. I love crusts, and now that I have made a few pies, I know why. They are not all that healthful ;)


mix well dry ingredients:
  • 3 1/2 C white flour
  • 1 1/2 t salt
mix well wet ingredients:
  • 1 C oil
  • 1/2 C cold water
Mix dry and wet ingredients together. Stir into dough quickly, but don't stir too much as that would make the crust tough. You want a consistent texture to the dough. Separate out 1/2 for the bottom crust, and the other half will be for the top crust. Roll out on a dough sheet, and set the pie pan on the dough, and flip it over. Remove the dough sheet. Roughly trim the excess off the pan, and settle the dough in place. Roll out the top in preparation for placement over the filling.


6 C fresh washed blueberries
4 T corn starch
3/4 C sugar
1/8 t salt
1 T lemon juice

Place the filling in the pie pan, and place the top crust on the pie. Crimp the edges to join the top and bottom crust. Poke some decorative holes (fork pricks) into the top crust to allow steam to escape. Fashion some strips of aluminum foil to wrap around the crinkled edges of the pie (to keep them from getting over cooked.)

Bake at 400 for 45 mins. Remove the edge foil, and finish baking for 15 more minutes.

If you need any help eating the pie, just invite us over ;) Happy eating.

P.S. Apple Pie Filling:

For this fall when apples come on (we hope there are some apples that made it through the spring frosts), we suggest apple pie! Use the same crust and method. The filling directions are below. I tried it with canned chunky apples, and it was hailed a success:

5-7 large apples, or 1 1/2 Q canned

3/4 C sugar
3 T white flour, or 3 T starch
1/8 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg (optional)

Place cut apples in the pie pan, mix ingredients over apples, and top with 1 T lemon juice.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Fruit Tree Pests

I have been told that one of the hardest areas in farming organically is fruit trees. Pests love fruit trees, and especially the developing and mature fruit. Insects and animals can pose serious challenges. Let's explore these, and suggested treatments.


A relative has in the past had extensive damage from several insects in his orchard. He has developed some creative solutions. He uses an electric zapper with two types of light source (florescent and incandescent.) Below the zapper he places a small wading pool of water, and wets the water with a detergent. In his experience, many moths and insects will be attracted and stunned, but not be killed. When stunned, the insect will fall to the ground, and with the wading pool below the moth kill is dramatically increased. Helpful insects are not strongly attracted to the zapper, while moths are strongly attracted. Moth pupae are damaging to many crops on the homestead. One person told me they could not think of a beneficial moth-- all are destructive to something. They love to fly at night, and if you have electricity, you can zap / drown a lot of them.

Another promising control measure is a clay product called Surround. It coats the tree and fruit in such a way as to confuse insects and camouflage the fruit which limits infestations. This product can be washed off with rain, and has to be applied weekly.

Peach Tree Borer

Traps can indicate the presence of adult moths, and once present, you will soon have eggs on the lower part of your peach trees. The eggs hatch in 7 days, and the larvae descend to ground level and burrow into the bark. Control measures applied to the tree need to be precisely timed to catch the eggs or larva before penetration below the bark.

Some farmers are convinced that the bug zapper has eliminated the peach tree borer damage. This moth is active in the day, but I have read reports that they mate at night, and therefore would be susceptible to the bug zapper.

Plum Curculio

This small snout beetle, 1/4 inch long, dark brown in color with patches of white or gray, lays its eggs on developing fruit, and the larva will burrow in and often destroy the fruit. Home gardeners can help reduce future problems from the Curculio by picking up the damaged apples as they fall off the tree and destroying them before the adults emerge. In apples, the larvae will only complete development in fruit drops.


Birds can quickly ruin a crop of mature fruit. I have a friend who watched a bird go from peach to peach throughout an entire tree taking one gouging bite from each nearly mature peach. The bird was doing great damage, and not eating hardly any of the fruit to become satiated. In a short time, such damage will rot and spoil the entire peach. Netting the entire tree is suggested if you have this type of damage. It is almost impossible to keep the birds out otherwise. Select a netting size that will not entangle the birds that land on the netting.

Strings draped through the tree foliage has been reported to discourage crows from staying in the tree.

I have seen electric wire around the trunks of fruit trees to discourage squirrels and similar from climbing the trunk to destroy fruit.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Watering Systems

This year (2012) has been hot across much of the USA, and much less precipitation in our area than normal. Where we have in the past been able to rely on our 3200 gal roof catchment cistern, it has been of no help this year. In the past month we have had around .25 inch of rain, which just enough to send a brief trickle into the cistern. We have had to use well water to keep the garden going this summer.

Last year we used 3/4 inch PVC pipe with regularly spaced small holes drilled, per the Mittleiter method. Our garden land has a slope to the row, and we found that we did not have enough water pressure to pressurize the PVC system, so the water just ran downhill, watering the lower end of the row too much, and no water at all at the top end of the row. This turned out to be a complete failure of time, material and effort.

This year, we have installed the commercially common T-Tape drip system, and we love it! The T-Tape system comes to pressure before the water is released from the in-line emitters, and we are finding consistent watering along a drip line with descending slope down the row. The system is simpler to construct and deploy than our PVC pipe system of yester year. These components are used by commercial farmers across the USA, and the system works well.

The watering is done with drip rather than a spray, so less water is lost through evaporation in the air. Some farmers may bury the drip lines and water under the soil.


Our feed line is a garden hose. There is slip connectors that join the main line tubing with the hose connection.  From the main line, you punch a small hole, and insert a T-Tape fitting that allows you to connect the T-Tape to the main line. At the end of the main line, you insert a plug. At the ends of the T-Tape lines, we tie the tape into a knot.

Our main hose to the garden has a flow rate of 5.5 gallons per minute. With this flow, we are able to pressurize and water up to 15 runs of T-Tape at a length of 90' each. This equals a row run of 1,350 feet. When we turn a zone on, it will take a few minutes to fill the main line and tape with water, and then build to pressure. All lines start to drip at the same time when there is pressure in the zone.

The links below go to the online store were we purchased our components.

Main line. We use 3/4 inch mainline
T-Tape: 8 mil, 8 inch on center
     3/4 inch connectors, including hose connectors
     3/4 inch barbed plugs
     Main line to T-Tape fittings
Tools: Punch for a .400 barb
Hold downs

We are experimenting with a few additional components: an in-line particulate filter, a fertilizer injector and tree drip line circles.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Recipe: Squash Patties

In the summer, we joke that friends at church start locking their car so their back seat is not filled with squash. Once squash comes on for harvest, it comes on all at once!

We get a lot of squash mid summer. We have found the perfect way to preserve squash and use it throughout the year. We make squash patties. This is like a meat substitute patty for sandwiches. We have also had the patties stacked on edge covered by a sauce as an entree.

You can make up these patties in the summer, and freeze them. We have done this with success, but have found that over time the patties can become freezer dried, and the texture is not as good as fresh. What we now do is shred the squash, and freeze the shreds in freezer bags. Then we make up the patties fresh as needed.

Zucchini Patties Recipe:
  • 9 cups grated squash (zucchini, yellow or zucchino Rampicante)
  • 4-6 cups quick oats
  • 10 tsp McKays Chicken style seasoning
  • 2-3 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup Nutritional Yeast
  • 4 Onions, chopped
  • 2 cups cashews 
  • 1-3 cups bread crumbs or croutons
Mix ingredients together. Bake on skillet on Medium High heat and brown lightly on each side.
1/3 cup batter = small patty
1/2 cup batter = Large patty

May chop onions, bread crumbs and nuts in food processor or blender. Patties freeze well.


Substitute for Cashews and Bread crumbs (makes a Gluten Free recipe)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cup Rice Flour (Blend dry uncooked Brown Rice until fine)
  • 1/2 cup Flax Seeds (Blend dry to flour consistency)