Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hot Chicken Takeover

-Posted by Isaac

I most always post about something bee related. Not this time. This is a...

Bee Culture Magazine has been running an article about chickens or ducks or something birdish, straying away from the meat of their content which is, of course, bees.

It seems silly to my mind. Hello! This is a bee magazine.
I've never actually read the article. It may very well be insightful and interesting. I need to give it a chance sometime.

So if Bee Culture can get away with chicken talk, I can too.

Some of you who have been out to our place like to ogle over the cuteness. The goats, the chickens, the kitty cats happily frolicking.

And sometimes, when presented with a compliment about these iconic symbols of "hobby farming," you are then surprised to learn my obvious annoyance over them.
Chickens and goats especially. I mean, they're always needing something. Fed. Watered. Cleaned up after. Buried if you happen to forget the first two. They're annoying! Plus, they distract from the real thing that we're trying to do around here. Which is, of course, bees.

This winter the chicken yard and chicken coop had to take a back seat to the bees: the new honey house addition.

But we weren't about to do away with the chickens. Oh no.
While they happily retired to the barn, their cozy winter retreat, I got busy finding a new place for the coop.
The place I had in mind simply wasn't big enough to hold our gigantic coop. Something had to be done.
Maybe a half-sizer would work.

Plus, a half-sizer was much easier to move with our mighty forklift.

As the winter progressed, things slowly took shape. As always, a coat of paint does wonders for old stuff.
I have just this week finished the fence and moved the chickens back out to their new summer retreat.

Some new and improved features:

A layer box positioned so you don't actually have to go into the pen and get your feet smeared with chicken poop.

An "automatic" waterer. All I have to do is turn on the new sink in the honey house. Again, this bypasses the chicken-poop-on-shoes issue.

And finally, a smaller chicken sized exit hole. This should keep only chickens using that door and not small children like we had before. No chicken-poop-on-pants issues.

Still not a fan of chickens, but even I've got to admit, it's pretty cute.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pollination / Hocking Hills

-posted by Isaac

Bees are in the news. It seems almost weekly someone is sending me an article they clipped or mentioning some bee related thing they saw on the news. I was flipping through the latest National Geographic, and here they are again.

Most the the spotlighting of bees involves some insight into why bees are struggling. Sometimes it's rational and scientific, other times the tone of the article has a hint of panic and hysteria. They're all fun to read. Thanks for sharing!

Of course it's pollination that makes the news-- the incredibly important role honeybees play in food production and the risk of losing this. Yes, bees are awesome in and of themselves... but so are Monarch butterflies. Crop pollination is why we need bees. And beekeepers, I might add. Let's face it, we can live without honey. (I know... what kind of life is that?) But things would be a little tough without bees pollinating about a third of the world's food supply. And as I've ranted before, it's the good part of our diets-- the fruits, nuts, veggies.

I'll quote from the National Geographic article: "When you watch bees single-mindedly labor to make honey, it's hard to believe that their greatest role in nature is something they are entirely unaware of: distributing pollen."

Spreading pollen around. That's what bees do. On the side, of course, we hope they make a little honey.
We're all done with apple pollination for the year, and I'm now in the process of prepping hives for pumpkins and vine crops.
Prepping hives is where the time is. Days in advance the bees need checked. Maybe fed, maybe treated, maybe boosted with more bees or brood. Every hive is different. And they all should be reasonably strong. We want the girls to to their job. And we want to keep that contract!
The actual getting bees to where they need to go-- that's mostly done at night. Pollinators work the graveyard shift.
I've got a few pictures from this year's apple pollination. But nothing very photogenic. I don't think I was ever in an orchard during the day. This is what your average contract pollinator working schlep sees:

And much of this:

Windows rolled down, caffeine on the seat beside me, radio loud and far from the NPR frequencies...  It never fails, I always catch a particular Warren Zevon song, and suddenly two in the morning has some justification. Some conviction!

Some nights, if time permits, a pollination work break is in order:

Kidding Honey.


 When the bees come out of the orchards, they need placed around in the out-yards. Sometimes this is a multi day process. This year, with the dry weather, I managed to get most of the yards filled at night. Night rolls into early morning and the bees wake up miles away in a totally new setting.

And I roll on home bleary eyed, ready for bed, and strangely craving a big dish of beef chow mein.

Two or three days later, the supers go on. In this particular yard just north of Laurelville the bees will be making tulip poplar honey. Quite the contrast from the apple nectar they were just on days before.

Delinda and Micah Tonelotti are the land owners here. They are not only providing my bees with a place to produce honey, they're beekeepers themselves! I was able to deliver a couple nucs as part of the "honey rent" for the year.

A few reasons I love apple pollination- (Aside from doing good in the world.)
Number one, the money. Yes, the money. I mean, we're not purely altruistic at Honeyrun Farm. Well, maybe Jayne is...

Number two, the bees seem to flourish. Pollination does have some troubles, sprays and stresses, but in the apples the bees don't seem to miss a beat. Years like this one, when it's calm and hot, the bees can even make a few frames of apple honey.

They almost always gain weight, no matter what the weather does.

And third, you get the bees back. That is, in time to make more honey (Unlike pumpkin pollination.)
They come out of the orchards and start right in on the black locust:

And the honeysuckle:

Or the tulip poplar, as I talked about above-- Delinda's yard north of the Hocking Hills.

And speaking of the Hocking Hills, we just got back from a great trip.
Here's how it happened. Our friends, the Taglias, wanted a bee yard at their place this year.
These bees found a home right out of the orchards:

Well, it was probably more that I was interested in their very great location full of locust and honeysuckle. Anyway, the Taglias happen to own a few cabins in the heart of the Hocking Hills. Big Pine Retreat- check it out! This last weekend we did:

I was happy to get away and celebrate another successful season of apple pollination.
Everyone was celebrating something.

Baby got in a few strides.
Mostly aboard Daddy.

Nothing goes better with hiking than ice cream.

Nasty Hocking Hills ice cream!
 Sunday morning we awoke to a hard rain. It was so nice to be snuggled in a dry cabin!
The rain soon cleared, making a foggy, magical morning for hiking.
My idea of Sunday morning worship:

We made a few attempts at a family portrait in this natural beauty. This is the best we could do.

Ah, the limits of iphones.

Friday, May 8, 2015

My Famous Sister

-Posted by Isaac

I've had Becky on the blog recently. As many of you know, she's more than just "aunt Becky" who runs our kids around in her spare time. She's owner, operator and CEO of Dangling Carrot Farm. And her spare time is becoming much more scarce these days. Not only are we thick in the growing season, she's fighting off the media at every turn.
Here, they caught up with her. I thought you may be entertained by this. Possibly even enlightened. Who knows?

In bee news, it's just more of the same. Splitting and more splitting. Sun up to, well, almost sun down. I've not yet worked until dark (Becky regularly does), but the season's not over and we've still got queens to come.
About 160 down.

The bees have actually made a little honey. Deadnettle honey? I found just a couple early supers completely full. 

The problem is, these super strong early colonies had swarm cells. They got ahead of me. Its hard to get around fast enough, as I mentioned in that last post.

I'm seeing bees in my sleep. Queens by day and night. Since we're on on subject of entertainment, I thought I'd leave you with this fun little post from last year. Grab some coffee. It's a good way to start your bee day.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Ah Spring- Time for Making Babies

-Posted by Isaac

The world has come alive! Babies are everywhere.

And has it been ever busy keeping up with them.

Beekeepers are run ragged this time of year. The bees, April, May, and June decide its time to make babies. They swarm. And it's my job to put a stop to it. Sort of.

Swarming is a good thing. It's procreation the way nature intended. I'm not opposed to a few swarms now and then. You get a new and vibrant queen out of the deal. Plus a little bit of natural mite control. The thing is, when your workers are off hanging in a tree, they're not making spring honey. So basically I run around all day in the spring, hive to hive, yard to yard, making splits. Splitting a hive is a way to control the exploding spring growth without losing your bees to the trees.

But sometimes it's hard to keep up. This week we've been chasing babies. 
Here are a few shots of recent swarms.

Above is  an easy catch in the flower bed. Good timing on this prime swarm-- just a day before loading up for apple pollination. These girls (with a few added frames of brood) are now working hard in the Lynd Fruit Farm orchards.

Below are some tree huggers. 
Jayne put this swarm on Facebook. It got a few likes and many exclamation points.

Here's a swarm caught yesterday in the apple tree. Perfect height for the eight foot step ladder.

When I got up there to look at these baby darlings, I noticed something else right above them.

Yep, more baby darlings:

 Here's one in the maple. Beekeepers can get a little crazy over swarms.
Glad we got that forklift.

Why is this happening? All these bee babies?
Well, suddenly, the world here in central Ohio has turned into a buffet table. As you've probably noticed from the roadsides.

Westfall High School sits about a half mile from our home bees. Before these hives left for the apples, we had over 100 in our yard. A lot of bees! Every blooming tree is a new target. When these trees went wild at Westfall, I actually got a call from an administrator saying that my bees were "disturbing the peace."

A pollen train--
You can see the incoming results of all the blooming. (Blooming being the plant plant version of making babies).

Making babies. The bees help the plants, the plants help the bees.

This pollen is stored as a protein source for spring growth.
Quite artistically, I'd say.

Sometimes we beekeepers have a hand in that beautiful plant-bee interaction. In April we pollinate apples. Well, the bees do the work. We just load them up and get the hives to the the work sight. We're bus drivers really.

Almost always this is done at night. But the recent cold evenings enabled us to start early. All the girls were in, staying warm in the cluster instead of out foraging.

Really good looking bus drivers.

Mr. Blair plugged entrances, I lifted hives, Bridger managed and reported oversights.

They come runnin just as fast as they can.

'Cause every girl's crazy bout a sharp dressed man!