Wednesday, March 16, 2016

First Hive Inspection of the Season

spring hive inspection

How can a groundhog be an accurate predictor of an early spring when the Farmer's Almanac was so totally wrong about how bad our southern winter was supposed to be? Whatever the reason, I am doing my happy spring dance (a waggle dance maybe?) especially after so many of days of rain in a row. Y'all the sun is shining and I took advantage of yesterday's fantabulous weather to do a hive inspection.

A basic hive inspection in spring means looking for lots of bees when you pop the top on the hive. And starting at one end I remove a frame to make space to slide the other frames over checking them as I go.

 Read my post about what it's really like to keep bees here.

Here's what I am looking for:

First, there should be a lot of bees wondering what in the world you think you are doing disturbing them. 

The next thing to look for is capped brood that is uniform and not spotty. A few holes are fine because that likely means those bees have hatched out but notice how nice and even the rest of the frame looks.

On the upper left you can see larvae. This means that 4 to 10 days ago there was a laying queen. I almost never actually spot the queen and don't spend but a minute looking for her. If I have larvae and capped brood all is well. Look at the picture below. You can see a pupa, which is at the stage where her sisters will cap her cell and she will spin a cocoon around herself much like a butterfly. When she emerges she'll be an adult bee. You can see why beekeepers are excited by all those capped cells. Each one is a future bee!

 Here's a pic of some frames that had lots of honey on them. These are generally the outside frames and the bees use the honey for insulation. Winter is all about keeping the brood warm until spring.

A textbook frame might look like this. I say "might" because just when you think you have the girls figured out they can surprise you. Like last year when they swarmed and then returned. That wasn't in any book I'd ever read.

Okay, this has everything we are looking for in a hive inspection. There is honey on the top corner, next to that pollen, then some larvae, and finally brood. If I had found some swarm cells I could take some frames that look like this with the frame that has the swarm (or queen cell) on it and start a new hive. We call that making a "split."

Read my 31 Day Introduction to Beekeeping here. 

Once I saw that each hive was healthy, free of any problems, and had laying queens I did that spring chore I hate which is switching the brood boxes. My bee club and lots of beekeepers say that since the queen likes to go up in the hive that she won't return to the bottom box and you should separate them and put the top one on the bottom and the bottom on top. This year I switched the ones on the ends and left the center one. I'll see for myself if it really makes any difference.

If your hives are light because bees eaten up a lot of stores and don't have much honey or brood yet it's no big deal, but the boxes are HEAVY when they are full and I am doing this alone. While I have the hives on their ends I scrape off all the burr comb. Burr comb is extra comb the bees build above and below the frames when they need more room and sometimes for no reason at all. Since a lot of it has drone larvae in it I let the chickens have it.

Warning: Bees that haven't been all that upset are going to go crazy when you remove the top box. Ignore them as they fly into you to let you know they will sting you if they can. Concentrate on what you are doing. Work slowly and carefully.

None of these hives needed anything but all three were ready for their honey "supers." A "super" is just a smaller box that goes on top for the bees to store honey in.

Once I get everything put back together this is how it looks. You can see that some bees are still making their way back into the hives to get to work after all the commotion.

As long as everything looks good in the front of the hive the only thing to do the next couple of inspections is to keep an eye on how fast the honey supers fill up.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Do Yourself a Favor and Invest in a Pair of Good Rain Boots

quilt and beehives

 Have you been living through this spring Rainpocalypse in your area? It was the kind of deluge that had my husband crawling around in the attic looking for the source of a leak and on the roof in a storm with a friend nailing down a tarp. My house looks like a refugee camp with curb appeal.

But just like the day my mother in law fell in the creek behind our house and the firemen had to come and rescue her (a funny, not scary, story for another time) I was at least happy I got to wear my rain boots.

When we were in Scotland we heard that they have a saying: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Imagine Sean Connery saying it in a rain storm in his tuxedo.

 My rain boots have been worth their weight in gold. If you get long rainy spells in your area treat yourself to a good pair of rubber boots for the garden. You can get by with the inexpensive ones from places like Target for casual wear but if your goal is to live out some English gardening fantasy and walk through puddles with the confidence of a 3 year old then invest in something comparable to a Green Wellie.

Read about the history of the Green Wellie here. 

bee rain boots

 This pair of Joules ran me around seventy dollars online from Nordstrom. They are heavy duty and adorable at the same time.

There is something about trudging around in the garden with good boots on while carrying a shovel I cannot explain. If the chickens follow you, well doesn't get any better than that.

I didn't receive any compensation from Nordstrom for writing this post I just am in love with this product! 

Friday, March 4, 2016

90 Mile March: The Beginning

Apparently March thinks it's hilarious. I hadn't prepared the night before for the first day's walk. I might have made it if I had.

I had to dig clothes out of the dryer, sneak around in the bedroom where my husband was sleeping to get my shoes and a bra, and find the keys to his car since mine was blocked in, and check the radar 10 times before deciding it was worth it to drive to the park.

The Scottish have a saying: There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.

Bless their hearts.

I made it about half a mile before it started to rain lightly. No problem I was prepared. Thunder and lightening are a different matter however. So is a downpour. I headed to my car like the wimp I am.

Round 1 goes to the weather.

I ended up soaked and with a broken umbrella. (see picture)

Of course by the time I got home, changed into dry clothes, and sat down with a second cup of coffee, the rain had stopped and the sun looked like it might have the nerve to come out.

Round 2: headed to the park in late afternoon when the sun came out. I had to navigate huge puddles and leap and jump like a frog but I finished without getting my feet too wet.

Day 2: Lovely weather. Dry path. Appropriate clothing. But is it just me or is 3 miles so longer than it used to be?

If you got way less exercise than you needed over the winter it's going to take a few days for your body to get used to your new routine. Don't beat yourself up. Change is hard. Just keep going every day. In my experience it takes about a week for the walk to actually feel good.

 By the time summer rolls around your body will crave the walk and it will be so easy. 

Day 3: Yesterday morning I sat on the Grand Jury as an alternate thus finishing up my week of jury duty. If you ever get the chance--take it. It is beyond interesting to hear what actually goes on in your city. Then I came home to eat a kale salad, and head out to get my walk in.

It was noticeably easier. My feet didn't fell like they were trudging through concrete. I picked up the pace. About 2 miles in it started to feel good.

Day 4: I'm heading out after lunch so it can warm up a bit.

What do you do while you are walking? I usually enjoy the sounds of nature and think about the big stuff I can't focus on when there are lots of distractions. Do you listen to music? Make mental to-do-lists?

Whatever it is march forth (see what I did there?) and do it!

Let me know how it's going in the comments.