Tuesday, February 23, 2016

It's Spring!

OK, so today's high is forecast to be 38 degrees Fahrenheit, with snow, and the current precipitation consists of ice pellets.  And yes, it's February.

But for the bees, and therefore beekeepers, it's early spring!  The girls are starting now to build their populations up, the queen is ramping up her laying of brood, and they're preparing for the inevitable arrival of dandelions, their first food of the year aside from what we feed them.

As an aside, we don't touch our dandelions until they've bloomed and gone to seed.  And then we make sure to kick and blow the seeds around the yard so there'll be even more later in the summer and next year!  Yes, that's the exact opposite of what my mom told me as a kid, when she classified dandelions as "weeds" and freaked out that there'd be too many when we blew the seeds.  But that's because now that I'm an adult, with my own yard, I know their value and I want them!

At any rate, it's definitely time for us as beekeepers to start thinking spring, and this time we're expanding from 10 hives to nearly 30 (yes, you read that right!), so on Saturday we went to the bee supply store and picked up a bunch of woodenware for some of our new hives.

Photo:  Carol Peterson

Part of the fun was also bringing two friends who've just ordered their first two nucs, and getting them set up with everything they'll need as well!  Eric and I are both so excited to be mentoring new beekeepers, you have no idea.

And then on Sunday when it was nice and warm, I visited the hives to see how they're doing, give them some more food of protein filled "winter patties" to keep them going until the nectar and pollen arrive, and treat them with a bit of Apivar.  Now's the time for "spring" mite treatments, since varroa mites attack the larvae, and the queen is ramping up her brood production, the mites'll be ramping up too.  Yuck.  There's no sadder sight to me than seeing honey bees with varroa mites clinging onto them, sucking them dry like a plate-sized tick on a human.  (shudder)

Spring feels so, so close now.

In the meantime, we console ourselves with our tapped maple trees, which are producing nicely.  I have to say, I understand why maple syrup is so expensive now!  Boiling it down is a long, long, long process, and when 10 gallons of sap yields just 1.5 pints of syrup... well, you get the picture.  But it's such a pretty picture!

And what to do with your maple syrup?  Well, I personally highly recommend this recipe for maple-buttermilk pudding cake that I tried Sunday night.


Monday, February 8, 2016

This One's for Us

Because we don't do enough things (yes, that's facetious tone right there), Eric came up with the admittedly awesome idea that we should make maple syrup too!  So he ordered a set of 10 taps, and we gathered all the plastic gallon bottles we could find, and this weekend before the Superbowl, we found five trees in our front and back yards that were viable to tap.  They've got to be at least 12" in diameter for a single tap, and over 18" in diameter for two.  One of the trees fit the bill for two taps, so we got to use six of them!

We were completely unprepared for (and amazed by!) how quickly the sap started to flow and how fast it came.  We put in the taps just yesterday, and we'll likely have 10 gallons of sap by tonight!  Of course, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of actual maple syrup once it's boiled down, but at this rate, we'll have that before the week's out!  We were figuring 1-2 gallons would come from the whole 6-week season, but it looks like we'll have more like 5 or 6, which is awesome.

These won't be for sale in the shop, though, these are just for us and gifts for friends.  After all, who wouldn't love 100% pure New Jersey maple syrup?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Back to the Bees

Here in northern New Jersey, it got near 60 degrees on Sunday... January 31!  Crazy.  But that meant the bees were flying.  They were going nuts, in fact, uncrossing all their little legs in their "cleansing" (bathroom) runs since they won't go in the hive, bringing out their dead, and generally cleaning house.

We took advantage of the terrific weather and the girls' activity, and did inspections on all 11 hives.

The six in our yard are doing well, most with phenomenal populations, one with the population a little lower than the rest, and we'll need to keep an eye on them.  One of the hives, the Pooh hive, was downright angry because their mouse guard had been removed somehow, and we believe a mouse or other animal had gotten in and shredded some of their comb.  We replaced the guard, and when they get a chance, they'll repair it like new.

They all still seemed to have quite a bit of honey, but had eaten the two winter patties we provided to each colony, so we added one more to each hive.  Better too much food than too little, and if there's one thing these bees will not die of under our watch, it's starvation due to lack of stores.

The two hives up the road, one of which we're actually overwintering as a single deep hive box rather than our typical two-deep, are going gangbusters, bursting at the seams with bees.  We'll have to be right on top of them in early spring so they don't swarm!  We gave them each a new patty too; they'd devoured theirs.

The two hives farther across town were also going gangbusters, and actually really calm and unstressed, which was nice to see.  We gave them each a patty and let them go about their business unhindered.

And then there was the small summer swarm Eric had caught and collected back in June.  We tried our darnedest all summer and fall to keep them going, requeening them when theirs disappeared, adding honeycomb and brood from other hives, and feeding them, but they just never really got their population where it needed to be to survive the cold snap once it came.  We found the hive devoid of live bees, and just a handful of dead ones on the bottom and in the comb.  The top box still had all their honey and they hadn't come near the food we'd left them.

So we're down to 10.  In practical terms, we're ok with that.  I personally get upset over losing a hive, and cried for those girls, but in the end, we're doing well.  If it keeps going like this, we're in a really great place for honey and expansion come spring!
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