Our Easter turned naturally to thanksgiving with the remarkable simplicity of dragging our newly built chicken casa to its permanent orchard home, sparkling spring weather, warmth of great friendship, four year old wonder and joy, and the amazing volume of projects accomplished on a beautiful weekend.
Our 6 pound locally-grown pastured ham, glazed with a cider mustard honey elixir paired beautifully with my spinach sweet potato gratin and sriracha deviled eggs to restore the planters of raspberries and 4 fruit trees. Laughter and contented familiarity made the clink of old silver on my grandma's china musical. The success of our chicks' first day in the poultry yard, scratching and chickening about, was something to celebrate.
Despite the unexplainable loss of 11 of our 15 baby turkeys, the day was made for reflection and joy. Murray McMurray Hatchery is kindly replacing the broad breasted bronze turkeys that we deduced must have had a hard journey. I have read and reread the Storey's Poultry raising guide. Our comfortable and temperate indoor accommodations aren't lacking, but the babies are dropping like flies without any precursory signs or symptoms of distress.
Our 4 year old was overjoyed with the big boy two wheeler bike that grew from the magic jelly bean seeds we planted on Easter Eve. Our rescued domestic rabbit, Fish, left the beans with a note explaining their magic. Nothing can prepare a mom for the flush of warmth at the successful growth of your child or the light in his eye at a true miracle.
Our first Easter at Pomponio Homestead was verdant, magical, happy and fruitful. I am so incredibly thankful for the gifts we have been given, and the good use we are putting them to. How could I not be? The smell of ham, golden sunrise on the pond, soft spring chirping all around and deliciously sore muscles are tangible sensory experiences as testament to the wonder and goodness of this life.
I love spring, when we can finally get out to the beeyard and open up those beehives! This past weekend we had the right conditions to do the first full hive inspections of the year. Temperatures were in the 50’s and 60’s, nice and sunny, and not too breezy. Perfect!
5 Steps of Beehive Inspections
We basically follow the same routine for each hive, which I will outline below.
1. First we puff a little smoke into the hive, wait a few minutes, then remove the outer and inner covers. For the hives we are feeding, we remove the hive top feeder. We take a peek in the top of the hive to see how the population looks. Some of the things we look for are the size of the cluster, the gentleness (or aggressiveness) of the bees, and signs of any pests such as small hive beetles.
2. We then start looking at the frames in the top hive body. We look for the queen, or if we can’t find her, eggs and brood. The picture to the right shows a frame of worker bees on a frame of eggs and larvae. In most cases the brood, eggs, and queen are in the top hive box at this point in time. After we have inspected the frames, we take the top box off, and set it aside. We then take a look at the next hive body. In our stronger hives we tend to find capped brood in this box, but in some hives it was empty, with just some honey. We continue working our way down until we have removed all of the hive bodies. As we inspect each frame, we also scrape off any “burr comb” (comb that the bees have built above and below the frames). This will help us avoid crushing bees when we put the hive bodies back on later.
3. We then remove the screened bottom board, and brush it off outside of the beeyard to remove the dead bees and other debris that have accumulated over the winter. We also lift up the hive stand, and brush off any debris that have accumulated there. We then replace the hive stand and bottom board.
4. Now we put the hive bodies back, but not in the same order they were in. We take the top hive body that had the queen, eggs, and brood, and put that on the bottom. If there was a second box with capped brood, we put that on next. For the third hive body, we put a box that is a mix of capped honey, pollen, and empty comb. If any of the remaining boxes had mostly empty comb, we shake off the remaining bees into the hive, and remove that box. This way the queen has room to work her way upwards laying eggs. Later in the season we will add more boxes of honey supers.
5. Finally, we add a sprinkle of a pollen substitute such as MegaBee, to give the bees a boost in brood production, before replacing the inner and outer covers, (or the feeders if honey stores seem low and we think they need supplemental feeding).
For most of the hives, they are all set until we are ready to start adding honey supers. The majority of the hives had good laying pattern, calm bees, and a nice mix of brood, pollen, honey, and empty frames to fill with brood or nectar. However, we did run into a few problems that need our attention.
One hive was extremely aggressive. As soon as we took off the outer and inner cover, the bees began flying directly at our veils. We quickly closed them back up, and will try to inspect them again on another day. If this aggression continues, we may have to look at ordering a new queen for them. I like to be able to relax and enjoy my bees, and these bees did not seem happy at all!
How to Remedy Low Beehive Populations
Two of our hives had very low populations, with a cluster that is only about the size of a softball. While they do both have queens who are laying eggs, it seems as though there is not a lot of eggs and brood. For these hives we reduced them to just one medium hive body that had brood, honey, pollen, and some empty space for the queen to lay eggs. We gave them the pollen substitute, and will continue to feed them. We talked to some other beekeepers about the problem and got several suggestions, listed below.
1. Just leave them alone and see if they build up. They may have just had a hard winter, and need more time to build up to the same levels as the other hives.
2. Since there are not many eggs or brood, the queen isn’t doing her job. Kill the queen, and combine them with other hives. We can then order more queens to make splits from the hives that are doing well later this summer to replace these hives.
3. Since they did lose many adult bees during the winter, it may be that the queen is performing well, but that there are not enough adult worker bees to care for the brood. Take some frames of brood and nurse bees from other strong hives, add them to the weak hives, and see if that helps them build up.
As it turns out, we are going to try a combination of these methods. Right after we did these inspections, it got cold again (in fact, it snowed this morning). So, we will need to leave the weak hives alone until at least the following weekend. At that point we can check them and see if they are doing any better. If not, I would like to add the brood from another hive, and see if they take off. If they still don’t look good after another week, we will kill the queens and combine them with another hive. I don’t like the idea of killing a queen, but if the hive isn’t going to make it, it is better to save the worker bees that are left than to lose them all.
One more thing I want to mention – make sure you take a moment to enjoy the time in the beeyard! For me it is so gratifying to get back out in the beeyard and spend some time with the bees. I hope you enjoy it as well!
Jennifer Ford owns and operates Bees of the Woods Apiary with her husband Keith. You can visit them at www.BeesOfTheWoods.com.
It was mid-April, and I was away for a weekend helping a friend and her family inoculate a new season’s worth of shiitake mushroom logs. It was a short trip away, but at this time of year, changes seem to punctuate each hour. Thus, upon my return two days later, I was astounded by how little snow cover remained. Winter wrens were singing my approach, and the roar of the river left no question in my mind as to it’s frigid power.
I walked towards our clearing, smiling to see our footbridges now visible without snow. A wave of joy washed over me at the first sight of the shed, and the cabin beyond. I quickly spotted moose tracks through the mud, and wondered how the creature was finding spring. In the few moments it took to walk to our granite stoop, my eyes caught the daffodils and tulips poking through leaf duff beside the sunny rocks out front. I noticed that sufficient snow had melted to allow for the pruning of winter damage from our young fruit trees and the tidying up of our many blueberry bushes - I would do that after unpacking. I righted the snow shovel that had fallen when it’s snow drift slumped, and picked up the snow stake that no longer had snow at its base. Evidence of spring was sending me so many details to grasp I didn’t see what was right beside me.
My hand on the door handle, I turned to call Mica. Instead, I chortled my own words into a surprised gasp of “oh...hey...” The moose itself was looking right at me.
While it seemed to find my obliviousness curious, it did not find my speech reassuring. It trotted away towards the eastern woodline, kindly sidestepping the asparagus patch. From there, we watched each other obliquely. I, for one, was trying to watch subtly, without staring. Perhaps she was doing the same. She seemed well-fed, and her coat thick. The exception, though, being high on her withers. There, significant bare spots were visible - the result, I assumed, of rubbing herself against tree trunks trying to alleviate the persistence of winter ticks.
She nosed about, then turned and headed north, again staying just to the side of the now snow-free garden beds. I whispered a thank-you.
As the afternoon went on, I finished pruning and spent the later hours splitting wood for fall. The moose continued to come back and forth, and we cautiously shared the clearing for brief moments. At times it was I who retreated to the cabin; other times it was she who double-backed to the woodline. Eventually she trotted off, delicately picking a path along the old woods trail.
My own elation at bare ground, plant buds, and warm sun kept me outside to the dinner hour. The moose, perhaps, in her own way, was experiencing her own pleasure in the coming of spring.
Spring is here! Time to prune your fruit trees, berry bushes, and ornamental shrubs! Time to design your garden! Time to purchase new nursery stock! Contact Beth via email@example.com for your garden and orchard needs.
In many communal kitchens, may it be a hostel or a student dorm, postings are usually to be found; “Leave it nicer than when you came”, they read. That can be said to humans on earth too, to leave it better than it was.
In previous blogs I've mentioned the difference I see between the commonly used term “low-impact” and how I rather talk about “positive-impact.” Low impact is a pretty popular way of indicating an environmentally friendly approach, to not disturb and to be barely noticeable in the natural world. While all this is well intended and certainly better than many options, I like to think of what Dennis and I are doing here at the homestead as positive impact instead of low impact.
To take an approach to nature as that humans' impact should be barely noticeable is to me to imply that humans' involvement in nature is destructive. It's easy to see where that notion comes from, humans has throughout history, and exponentially in recent time, been unfathomably destructive to nature, but that doesn't mean that that's all humans can be. Furthermore, to take the stand that human involvement in nature should be low impact is also to imply that we should be observers of nature rather than acting in nature, once again assuming that human's actions in nature are negative.
By living and working in nature, with nature, I believe that our surroundings here at the homestead are ecologically healthier, more diverse and vibrant than should we as humans not have been here. In a dense forest with pretty a low diversity of spices, the clearing made for our farm seems to open up for an abundance of life benefiting from the different ecology it offers. Deer and other mammals are drawn to it and owls use it as a hunting ground for mice and voles. We can encourage their presence by providing houses for them, since there are so few old and hollow trees of the right size around here. Our gardens feed many but us, birds for example, like the Red Robins passing through the area in the spring or the Blue Jays, that in September eat the seeds from the dried sunflowers I leave standing for them. Insects, bees and butterflies take advantage of the broad diversity of flowers, a diversity that would not exist on our land had we not created it. Rodents live around the edges of the garden, whether we like it or not, and there's a vast microbiology created by the compost and seaweed we fertilize with.
By promoting the few oaks growing on our land over the invasive balsam fir, we provide nutrient dense acorns for many living creatures and by clearing a white spruce stand to plant apple trees we increase plant diversity that once again provide feed for numerous insects, bees, butterflies and mammals, humans included.
We all depend on nature for our sustenance, even if we don't live directly in it, and all our actions have an impact on nature in some way. But by living like this, with a daily and direct connection to nature and a desire for it to provide for us, we can be in better control over what impact our actions, and interactions, have. Here, we can not only tread lightly but tread positively, and leave it a better place than we found it.
I am petrified of bees. This is no secret to the people that know me. Often times I’ll jump up in a shrieking jig if a wasp, yellow jacket, bumblebee or honeybee flies my way. I get stung. Often. Once while I was on the toilet. I once came home to my bathroom full of bees after a hive broke in our walls. I still have nightmares about it.
When my husband spent a summer helping out a master beekeeper and fell in love with bees, I didn’t think much of it. When we finally bought our farm this fall and he insisted on getting a hive of our own, I was anxious. When we ordered our be package in January, I tried to put it out of my head – after all, April was a long way away and we had bigger issues to face getting through the winter.
When March finally arrived, so did our hive. My husband painted it himself, and obsessively read bee keeping literature. I continued to try to live in denial. This Tuesday, the bees arrived. I was at work when my husband went to get our bee package with my father-in-law, but he texted me pictured that made my stomach drop.
Even though I wasn’t there to witness it, the installation of the bees into the hive went well. Of the four people that were there during the process, not one got stung. I watched the video and did my best not to cringe.
The bees have been with us now for several days, and despite the nights that have dipped well below freezing, they seem to be doing well. My husband goes out to visit them each day. I have yet to face them myself.
I do plan on making my peace with the bees. I am planting several varieties of flowers just for them, and will do my part to keep them happy and healthy – from a safe distance. When I see one while I’m gardening I will take a deep breath and think about what a help they will be to plants and my saplings. I will not swat at them, and instead picture all of the delicious honey I will enjoy this fall. And most of all, I will do my best not to have a panic attach when my husband starts to talk about all of the hives he wants to put in next year.
Carrissa Larsen runs a small farm with her husband in southern Maine. To follow the adventures of Feather and Scale Farm daily, please stop by and "Like" their Facebook page or visit their farm website for updates.
Our second order of chicks arrived. Complete with a free exotic heritage breed chick, thanks Murray McMurray! The healthy chick count is high with an excellent survival rate. The original chicks, at almost 3 weeks old are growing fat in a couple of huge plastic dog houses on the deck. They have heat lamps at night, fresh air always and a great view during the day. A couple managed to wriggle under my hardware cloth door screen in the night and were a fluffy reminder to close that barrier up tight.
Fish the rabbit is now grazing in the open of the poultry yard daily, seems to have settled in nicely. No ducklings for Jerry yet, she is two days past the 28 day incubation mark and pretty immature herself. I figure give in to her mothering instincts another week to be safe and then clean out her nest and let her begin again.
After getting some beans on to simmer for refried burrito filling, rolling some raw veggie n sprout (High Mowing Seeds sprout mixes are the seed bomb!) and getting all the morning feeding done-kiddo included, I went to water my seedlings. It is never pleasant to be faced with your shortcomings. No one likes a surprise photo from the rear or brick like bread, I speak from personal experience people!
My carefully tended, lit and misted repurposed egg cartons and trays look mostly like dirt. A few weak spindly struggling little troopers attempting to stand. I read directions, tend daily, and read homesteading references galore. Like my alarmingly sturdy loaves, these seeds are a mirror into what I lack. Apparently a green thumb is also useful for kneading...
So I looked through my seed packets to figure out a direct seeding plan, and ordered organic starts from Azure Standard in Dufur, Oregon through the Orofino 7th Day Adventist Church. They ought to come with our organic produce, field fencing, organic chicken chow and fertilizer order towards the end of the month. My history with little plants is decent. I rely on heritage breeds and plants, compost, good intentions and strong fencing for my heretofore gardening success. The starts look beautiful online and sometimes for the sake of time, sanity and food to eat one must concede.
Maybe its the soft background music of miraculous chicken fluff, or the glow of a 4 year old rediscovering the soft air of outdoor spring, or just my age; I am choosing my hill to die on and it's not going to be the mounds of freshly planted potatoes.
Bees do not live on honey alone.
Pollen = Protein
Like all living things, honeybees need protein. The protein that bees use comes from plant pollen. Grains of pollen contain amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. As bees gather from different flowers, a variety of amino acids are collected and complete proteins are available to the bee. Think of this as like when human vegetarians combine beans and rice to make a complete protein meal.
Bees utilize the protein by mixing pollen with digestive enzymes and a bit of nectar or honey. This creates a substance called "bee bread" which is then fed to worker bee larvae. Bee bread also contains enough antibacterial properties to be stored for a couple of months when there is a surplus. (Queens are fed royal jelly throughout their larval stage.)
Honeybees tend to choose pollen based on odor and physical configuration of the grains rather than the quality. Approximately 15 - 30 percent of worker bees foraging are collecting pollen as they visit various flowers. The hairs on their bodies pick up the pollen grains like a lint brush. As they visit flower after flower, some of these bits of pollen fall off and pollinate. The pollen that remains clinging to the bee is brushed into pollen baskets on their hind legs. If you watch closely when bees are visiting flowers you can see the pollen collected in these baskets. Look for tiny balls of color attached to their legs.
Between 33 and 121 pounds is required annually by an average sized colony to raise brood. Considering that a single bee carries a pollen load of about 18mg, that is a lot of trips back and forth to the hive. This pollen load may be up to 35 percent of their body weight. (1)
What Makes for Good Bee Pollen?
All pollens are not equally nutritious to bees. Different plants produce different qualities of proteins. For example, canola and almond produce a high quality protein pollen. Raspberries, blackberries, willow, and sunflower produce lower quality pollens but these are still attractive to honeybees. Pine trees produce a lot of pollen but it is not used by honeybees. Likewise the pollen on many ornamental plants is not useful to honeybees.
Pollen in the cells should be multi-colored as an indicator that the diet of the colony is varied. Just like humans, bees need a well balanced diet from a variety of nectar and pollen sources.
If you are thinking about planting flowers this spring, consider what might be useful to the honeybees. Crocus, flowering herbs such as thyme and basil, lavender and chives are possibilities. You might even consider letting the dandelions in your yard bloom.
Beekeeping is just one of the many activities at Five Feline Farm. Check out our Facebook page to see what else is happening this spring.
1. Ellis, A., Ellis, J., O'Malley, M. and Nalen, C.Z. (2010) The Benefits of Pollen to Honey Bees. University of Florida Extension. Retrieved 4/2014 at www.Gardens.USF.edu