Monday, June 10, 2013

A swarm of bees, getting the garden in and other homesteading adventures

  This time of year seems to always keep us busy in the homesteading arena. This past week was no exception.
  Our most exciting homesteading activity (if you consider the amount adrenaline that coursed through my body) was dealing with our bees when they decided to swarm. The bees have been stretching me a bit this year as first they dealt with chalk brood (we had quite a lot of cool, rainy days and I didn't feed them as much sugar water as I guess I should have - I had given them frames of honey that had been leftover from the beehives that I tried to overwinter - but I guess that didn't really work) and then because the one hive seemed to be struggling with the chalk brood I didn't give them a 2nd box as soon as I should have and so Saturday they decided to swarm. 
   I was out working in the garden on Saturday morning when Jonathan (who had elected to work in the kitchen rather than in the garden) came running out saying that the bees were swarming. I have had false alarms from him before on a hot day when the bees like to hang out on the front of their hive so I tried not to get to excited. However when I went up to check it out sure enough the bees had indeed swarmed and were hanging out on a nearby tree.
 For those that don't know what swarming means: Swarming happens when a bee colony decides that they don't have enough space for everybody so they start working to produce a new queen and then the old queen and approximately half of the workers all take off to look for a new place to live. They leave the hive and then find someplace to hang out for a bit while they send scouts out to look for their new home. The picture above shows them hanging out on a branch. They cluster together to keep the queen safe and warm.
  I didn't know exactly how I should deal with the situation though I had read about it at other times so I had a bit of an idea. I decided the best plan would be to call an experienced bee keeper that I know to see what his recommendation would be. After I described the situation he suggested that I put down a newspaper across the top of the brood box that they had just left and spray it with sugar water and then put a new box on top of that. He said to take out some of the middle frames and then to cut of the branch they were hanging on and carry it over to the hive and brush them inside the hive and then replace the middle frames and put the lid on and leave them alone for 4 days.
   The newspaper would help them to be near the other bees that had stayed behind but not right with them. Since they had decided to separate and were rearing another queen if I would have put them in directly with them they might have started hurting each other or just left again. With the newspaper they are temporarily trapped up in the upper box until they chew through and hopefully be the time they chew through they will be amiable again and realize they now have plenty of room and stay happily (and they will probably get rid of the queen cell that they were caring for). I am hoping and praying that it works!!
Mara and I ready to capture the swarm - my photographers failed to take pictures when we were actually doing it. :-)
 When I started to saw the branch off it wiggled the branch so that some of the cluster of bees fell off. I decided that wasn't really going to work. So I decided to bring the brood box over to were they were instead. I put a piece of cardboard under it as a temporary bottom and then I held it up underneath the swarm while Mara brushed them in. Then we put it on the other hive box with the newspaper in between as planned. Both Mara and I went into this operation a bit hesitantly as we realized we were going to get quite up close and personal with a lot of bees that might be agitated and realized that even with our protection we run the risk of getting stung. And we were close - I was holding the box at face level while Mara brushed them down at the box and me. But it seems that when they have swarmed they are so preoccupied with that and I guess because they don't have a home which they need to guard they didn't really seem interested in us at all. We were very thankful! I also felt very blessed that they chose to go on a branch only around 5 feet up rather than somewhere up high.
  We realized we missed some of the bees in the operation so I put another hive box over by where the bees had gone and later that day I went over and got that (which did now have quite a few bees in it) and also brushed a tiny little cluster that had developed into it and then added that on top of the other boxes. I am sure I made mistakes in this whole ordeal but I surely am hoping that everything will work out!
Saturday we finally got most of our garden planted (previously we only had peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes and some onions planted) and basically all the seedlings that I had started in. We had a really long winter this year and some pretty cool temperatures this spring. I am hoping it will get going and do good now!
 I am sporting a new gardening hat this year. My friend Becky who over the course of our friendship (that started when we were children) has given me many funny hats and other creative gifts sent me a new one for my birthday in December. It is a pretty fun hat because it folds up neatly so that it is flat but then pops out to the lovely bell shape. It is quite unique and gives us a good laugh.
We are using quite a bit of black tarp (we got it free from the lumberyard - it is black on one side and white with printing on the other) in our garden to help keep weeds down and keep the soil from drying out. It is pretty nice!
All the kids helped with the gardening though after a bit Jonathan requested that he be able to go do dishes and clean up the kitchen instead as he prefers that. I was willing as I like to have a clean kitchen. Megan did a lot of the watering of our little transplants.
Mara helped in many ways. In this picture she was planted beans. We are trying out some cool dry beans called Calypso this year. They are black and white and look like the yin-yang symbol.
 Beyond gardening we area also still working on our chicken coop and run. They arrive next week so we are going to have to get it done soon.

  We have also managed to eat something we have harvested from our property (on that day) every day this month so far. It has been a fun challenge and I hope to keep it up.

 One day this month we were able to harvest and eat a tomato that ripened on one of our indoor plants. Yeah! We have some others that are close to turning now.

 Some of the days we haven't eaten that much for our property - one day at least it was only the addition of chives to our meal but other days it was more.

 On Saturday evening the boys cooked supper over the fire outside. It ended up being quite the adventure with hot pads getting burned not to mention our fried potatoes getting rather black too. But experience is always good and you learn from it.

 That evening I picked some nettles to add to our supper. We boiled them over the fire, drained them (I drank that juice as it is supposed to be very good for you) and added butter and lemon juice and it was pretty good.
Here are what the nettles look like growing.

So that is some of our weeks adventures. What have you been doing?



Jackie said...

Wow! That bee adventure must have been scary. We had some wild honey bees swarm into two groups on a tree near our house a few years ago. We had a local couple come and get them and they later told us they were the best bees they had. They said they were told that there are no wild honey bees in our area, but I guess that isn't true. :

You will have to remind me how you grew your tomatoes indoors. I think that would be heavenly in the winter.

Also, I'm glad you got your garden in and I hope you have much success with it. :)

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. I think it is just so cool to see the things you and your family are doing!

Anna said...

Sounds exciting! How are the bees now?
All your gardening makes me a little jealous that we don't have more space. It is such good work for all of us.

Abbi said...

The bees are doing great now. God really blessed! I think I will need to extract honey before the end of the month so that we have enough boxes.

I am so very thankful for all the gardening space we have. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with but it is a big blessing.


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