Archive for the ‘Bees’ Category

The Lost Bees

I thought I would share what went wrong with the bees. I feel that if you can’t be the good example, you should be the horrible warning.

As you know, the bees left. One day they were there, the next they weren’t. They took all their honey, left only three new-born bees to die in the combs and they (presumably) swarmed away. This happened during our loveliest weather, which as you probably know, comes right before the worst weather, here on the central coast. Here they are, just two weeks before their exodus:

As new bee keepers, we look for clues, even if we don’t know how to interpret them or even know to interpret them as clues. Since we had been in the hive not too long before they swarmed, we can say the hive looked healthy. There were no signs of disease that we could see. We added a second super to the hive, somewhat late in the season and had been monitoring it. I was worried they wouldn’t have it full before winter but the girls had been busy as…well…bees. The air was filled with bees on the day we took these photos. All of the returning bees had pollen sacks that were full.

After the bees left, there were some other clues. They didn’t leave any brood, which means their leaving was a planned event. There were three bees left in brood chambers. There was no sign of disease. The hive still smelled good, like a clean, well-tended hive should. It looked like someone still lived there. I felt a little like Goldilocks, waiting for the bears to come home. The biggest clue to why they left was the clue that I didn’t recognize as a clue. They cleaned out all of their honey. That healthy, thriving hive, was probably starving.

What we didn’t know was that the nectar flow was weak, this year. Bees need nectar and pollen and we didn’t have enough pollen. Many bee keepers feed a simple syrup-like food to their bees in the fall. Dave and I had been to a Santa Cruz Beekeepers Guild Meeting and had heard the debate about feeding vs. not feeding. we decided to take a fully “organic” approach to our bees and let them forage for their own food. It seems that once you start to feed, you have to keep feeding for a good portion of the year because the bees build their numbers beyond what the natural environment can support. Most years, this would probably have been a successful strategy. We have a fair amount of forage for bees on our 36 acres. We have Manzanita and Eucalyptus, as well as a host of wild flowers. What we didn’t have was the weather for the nectar producers to be successful and our beautiful bees were running out of energy.

Of course, we didn’t know this. we had to take our clues over to Mountain Feed and ask Carla, the resident bee expert. As soon as we told her they took all their honey, she knew. Dave went into immediate denial. they were so healthy, they were growing….Carla just smiled and nodded. I detected a hint of sympathy. Of course it makes sense and I’m sure this isn’t Carla’s first swarm story. She said that one of the long time, expert bee keepers in Santa Cruz, who chooses not to feed, lost 10 hives! I guess I don’t feel so bad.

Losing the bees, while tragic, was a  good learning opportunity. It gives us a chance to hone our philosophy. I still think we will be as organic as we can be but we will also pay closer attention to changes that occur in the environment and react accordingly. After all, as bee keepers, we are trying to keep our bees, not put them in a box and hope for the best.

Better a bee on my butt, than a bee in my bonnet!

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Sssshhhh….I’m Blogging Again

Don’t tell anyone and please don’t make a big deal about it. I return to the blog with my head hung in shame. I’m sorry for abandoning you. I hope you will take me back. I can promise to turn a witty tale or two. I have a few somewhat stale, lightly used stories to tell, about the trials and tribulations of remodeling and gardening on a semi-pro scale. Let me catch you up on things that have happened recently.

The contractor quit. It’s for the best. We were running out of money and those guys usually want to get paid. Not to worry, a friend came to our rescue. Remember Mike, who helped up build the fence? He’s been helping put the house back together. This is where we are in the process:

I know that isn’t the most helpful photo, as far as getting the bigger picture goes but I was hoping to replace at least a thousand words. I’ll tell you more about it later but we had a little issue with things fitting inside the bathroom so we changed the floor plan again. We didn’t get the plans redone this time. Mike assures me the county won’t mind (much) and he will help us take care of the issues. We’ll see. So far, the county has been grossly uncooperative about, well, everything.

Meanwhile, in the garden of Good and evil, the tomatoes started to ripen. They started to ripen the week after I panicked and bought (picked, with Dave’s help) 100 lbs of canning tomatoes from Marquita Farms. I forced the kids into 12 hours of canning servitude. They were champs. They did all this:

Actually, they did all that and more. I was very impressed. I haven’t had the heart to make them help me again, even though we have a garden full of over-ripe tomatoes.

The bees have left. One week we had a thriving community and the next, nothing. An empty hive full of cleaned out comb is an eerie place. We’ve been a little depressed over it. I don’t fully understand why the hive swarms when it’s getting ready to die back but I know of three other local bee keepers who have suffered the same fate.

Here are the bees shortly before they left. This was also shortly before they got really upset and caused a ruckus. Dave made us buy bee suits after that. We will be getting more bees next spring.

So there you have it. The brief happenings at Redemption. Stay tuned for more.

Accidental Bee Keepers

See that in the middle of the meadow? Sitting in what used to be the burn pile? That’s what our neighbors work up to Sunday morning. A few of them weren’t sure what it was but one knew. Ed said when he work up on Sunday, his wisteria was covered in bees and when he saw the box, he knew exactly what was going on. the Bees of Redemption have gone to work. Our neighbors are surprisingly excited, too. Yet another reason to love the ranch.

Although we had meant to become beekeepers this year, we did not intend to become bee keepers this week. It all started last year when I bought Dave a beginners beekeeping package from Bear Foot Honey. Since he already takes care of our worms, it seemed like a natural choice to for him to choose bees as his next project. He got some books on bees and tried to read up. The first book that he got from his friend, Dr. Homesteader, was way to technical for someone who didn’t know a thorax from a brood box. The second book was OK but we left it on top of Chaos’s kennel when she was still a youth and she pulled it through the bars and ate it, velociraptor style. Dave is currently reading a book we got from Mountain Feed, in Ben Lomond, which carries a great selection of beekeeping books and supplies. (I feel like I should hit them up for advertising since I talk about them so much.) Our newest book is called Beekeeping in Coastal California, by Jeremy Rose and it is our favorite so far. It has a great section on native plants that are the primary source of food for pollinators during each month, which has been very helpful in deciding what sort of bee friendly hedges we should plant.

The bee keeping package I got Dave came with the hive and bees, as well as two classes. Since they are in Santa Rosa, a good 2.5 hour drive from here, we scheduled both classes on the same day. On Saturday, we got up at 6am (so much for my leisurely weekends) and drove to Santa Rosa. The are around Santa Rosa is stunningly beautiful so the drive was enjoyable. When we got to Bear Foot Honey, we were early enough to enjoy a pastry and chatted with Fred, the owner’s father, a lifetime veteran bee keeper, an educated conspiracy theorist and our instructor for the day. He was a very interesting man. We also met a fellow classmate who lives in Boulder Creek, just around the corner from our Ben Lomond house. Small world!

Fred spent the first part of the class overwhelming us with information about diseases of the hives. His theory is that with the information out there on the internet, you can learn to be a bee keeper without ever talking to one in person, so he aims to teach a class that you can’t get on the internet. He was a font of historical knowledge. His lifetime has seen all the modern changes in bee keeping especially, as it related to Colony Collapse Disorder, which he says is a phrase that makes it easy for the people to understand a complicated concept. He likens the phrase CCD to calling the movement that marked the end of WWII, D-Day. We don’t talk about all the battles that lead up to it, the complicated, tactical movements of troops that day or the after effects. We just say D-Day and everyone knows what that means. CCD is the same. It has a complicated history, it’s the result of several different factors and diseases, and we aren’t really sure how best to handle it right now but each bee keeper has their own method. Instead of trying to talk about Varroa Mites and poor hive management practices, we just say CCD and we know what that means. All the science boils down to this: bees are dying. All of us in the class on Saturday wanted to be part of the solution. In our own way, we were all getting on a boat to Normandy.

Fred didn’t lack for opinions. He’s clearly well read on American history, politics and bees. He contends that Varroa mites were purposely brought to the Americas by the Chinese government, via Mexico, in order to bring down American honey production and give China a foot hold on the world honey market. Part of me chuckles at this, part of my thinks there’s a possibility that he’s right. I have a little conspiracy theorist in me, too. Historically speaking, he is right about how the mites got here. they did come from Asian honey bees which are immune to the stomach ulcers the mites cause. They were imported to Mexico during their economic collapse. I’m just not sure the intent was sinister. But it could have been.

In the afternoon, we put on our face nets over our fabulous cowboy hats and we headed out to the hives. Fred insisted we should all learn to handle the bees with our bare hands. After watching him with them, I wasn’t afraid to touch them. With the bees buzzing around, I felt confident helping Fred move bees out from under the lid of the bx so they didn’t get squished.

Excuse the photo quality, we forgot the camera so we had to take photos using Dave’s cell phone.

After the class was over, we were picking up some honey items in the Bear Foot Honey store (creamed lemon honey is amazing) when the owner, Cheryl, asked why we didn’t just take our bees today so so we didn’t have to drive all the way to Santa Rosa again. I could see a flash of panic in Dave’s eyes. He wasn’t ready. We thought we had more time. What if we weren’t ready, we would kill them. What if something went wrong…what if..what if. What if we just took them home and gave it a shot? With the exception of the diseases that can be controlled, bees have been doing their thing for centuries. Who are we to think we could break down the hive structure and kill them off that quickly? So knowing we had all the support we needed from Cheryl and family, we agreed to come back at dark, after the bees had settled and pick up our hive.

So we drove home with a box of bees in the back seat. I called my step-mom to play” guess what’s in my back seat, today.” She didn’t guess, so I had to tell her. When we got to the ranch, Dave and I braved marching through the chest high meadow grass to set the hive on cinder blocks in the former burn pile. Then we went home and slept like the dead after our 18 hour day.

We woke up the next day and could hardly wait to check on the girls. We are supposed to leave the hive alone for 48 hours so all we could really do was observe the girls from the outside. Right away I could see that most of the bees landing at the door of the hive were carrying lots of pollen with them. Clearly, they had found a good food source. Here they are dancing in the doorway:

Chaos doesn’t know what to do with the bees. We’re working on training her to not snap at them, both for the bees safety and her own.

It looks like our hive is thriving. I look forward to watching our hive grow and someday, getting to try our very own Redemption honey. Check out our Facebook page for more photos of our hive and our class.

Random Tuesday

I came home today to find my neighbor (one of the nice ones) visiting with my husband. She had been hearing a sheep and went on a mission to prove she wasn’t loosing it. Sheep Buddy was loving her; she fed him alfalfa pellets. I hope she keeps visiting him. He seems to like the company.

Apparently, my idea to use bees for world domination is not a new idea. I guess the X-Files had many episodes on the subject. Of course, the mode was different. I didn’t watch it but my sister-in-law was a fan and says that the bees carry a black oil in them and when they sting people, the people turn into aliens. I just want to make honey and wax crafts.

Speaking of the X-Files, there were episodes about corn taking over. We should heed the warning. Corn is taking over and no good can come of it.

This weekend we took out most of the wiring in the house. All we have left to do is the stuff in the ceiling and under the house. I’m planning on making a deal with Dave. If he does the underside of the house, I’ll do the Attic. I think there’s more wires in the attic but there’s less damp mustiness up there, too.

Chaos the Dutch Shepherd is trying to lick Hamish the Hairless Cat. He just had a bath and smells like baby shampoo and hairless cat. Chaos hasn’t had a bath in weeks. I think maybe I’ll get the kids to bathe her this weekend.

I have to go cruise Craigslist for house stuff. Today I’m searching for french doors (in 6 and 8 foot sizes), a kitchen sink and a tankless water heater.

Bees Please

One of the things Dave and I are both excited about is raising bees. We have both been following the harrowing tale of America’s honey bees, a tale of woe. Bees are dying off faster than they can replenish their numbers. What that means for farmers is less natural pollination and more need to breed (or create) plants that self pollinate. Up until last week I hadn’t seen one bee on the property but this weekend we finally saw a few. If we have our own bee hives, we will have year round access to our own pollinators and of course, HONEY! I love honey. I love the idea of getting my crafty and creative friend involved so she can make honey related products and bees wax candles. I have a whole product line in my head. She doesn’t know it yet but I’ve already made plans for that crafty and creative friend to move from her home in Napa and set up shop at Redemption. I’ve always wanted to live on a compound surrounded by all my friends. So if you followed the progression it’s: bees, honey, lip balm, candles, compound, Redemption as a household name, world domination. I know you didn’t mention world domination but I think it’s always best if world domination comes as a surprise. As i learn more, I will be sharing the wonders of bees (they really are amazing) and the subtle undertones of my plan to rule the world. 

Our first bee visitor