Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bee Log #7: December 10, 2009

The picture shows a healthy frame of bees. I included it to encourage us all that spring will follow winter. Today it is really cold for Seattle. I think it got down to about 20 degrees F last night. It has been cold like this for about a week or 10 days. We start to fidget in Seattle when the cold lasts like this. My washing machine is on an unheated porch in the back of the house. I have an electric blanket on it to (hopefully) keep it from freezing. However, the sun has been shining and that has been nice. When it is raining, as it usually is this time of year, it is a lot darker and gloomier.

The bees are occasionally seen flying out to relieve themselves. There are lots of dead bees covering the front entrances of the hives. If we were going to put mouse guards on the hives, we should have done that about the end of November. I think it is too late now. Last year we scraped about an inch of dead bees off of the floor of the hives (and no mouse nests) when spring came. The hives survived so I am not too worried.

We need to start planning for any expansion that we might make next spring. We will need new hive bodies and new supers if we get any more hives. We also need new yards to keep the bees in since we have the maximum the law allows in our yard now (four). I would love to have bees in three different locations in the Wallingford/Greenlake areas of Seattle. We would maintain the hives and the property owners would get all the free honey that they could eat and the pollination services of the bees.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bee Log #6: December 2, 2009

So, what have I done with the ivy honey that smells funny? (Funny honey?) What does it smell like? It smells like old leaves and like fall and like sneezes. I use it to bake bread. Really good bread. I put the ingredients in my breadmaker set on dough. (The teflon is wearing off of the mixer and I can't get the baked loaf out of the pan in the breadmaker if I bake it there.) The recipe is as follows:

Mix together and let bubble to prove the yeast is good:
1 1/4 cups warm water (liquid measure)
1tsp. sugar
4 tsp. dry yeast

Put the yeast mixture in the breadmaker and add:
1 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey
1 1/4 tsp. salt
4 cups whole wheat flour

Mid way through the breadmaker cycle add:
1/2 cup pumkin seeds
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

Grease a bread pan with crisco and then dust the greased surface with corn meal. Form the dough into a loaf shape and pat into the bread pan. Let the loaf rise. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 400 degrees until the house is filled with bread smells and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped. Remove from the pan immediately and cool on a rack.

I hope that you enjoy this hearty loaf. You don't need ivy honey in order to make it!

The bees have had some flying time in the last week as the temperature climbed above 52 degrees. Otherwise, I don't see them much except for the few that come out to potty. They are on there own until the weather starts to turn in February. Then, I need to see if they need to be fed to get them through the rest of the winter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bee Log #5

You can see three of our hives in the above picture. There is a swarm issuing from the center hive. The hive on the left was the weakest at the beginning of the summer but finished the summer as the strongest hive with no intervention on our part. The flowering plant in the foreground is cilantro going to seed. The bees loved the flowers and the chickens loved the seeds when they formed.

I did an exterior check of the hives today and there are lots of dead bees at the front of the hives (like 40 to 50 bees on each hive). The bees are active enough to move the bodies out of the hive but not active enough to cart them past the entry. I think this is just a normal fall die off and not a symptom of something worse. The temperatures are now in the 40's in the daytime with rain and wind. The bees still fly a bit when the sun comes out but those days are few and far between.

See the note in post #4 about the bee class. If you live in or near Seattle or Everett and you want to keep bees, consider taking this class. It looks like a good one.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bee Log #4: November 15, 2009

There is a bee class offered by the Snohomish County Extension of Washington State University beginning in early January that sounds very good.

Check the link for information. I have signed up and plan to attend. It is a good first step toward becoming an apprentice master beekeeper.

The bees are mostly staying in their hives. The weather is cold and rainy. There are a few dead bees out in front of the hive and I can see a few dead bees as I look in the opening of the hive. The hives feel heavy as I lift up one side an inch or two indicating that the honey stores are good. I will check that periodically through the winter.
The picture is a swarm of bees from our hives. We caught the swarm and successfully hived it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bee Log #3: November 10, 2009

Look at the beautiful colors of honey collected over the summer of 2009!

  • The lightest is from July 4. It had a taste of jasmine. Our neighbors have a wonderful jasmine trained over a chain link fence that was in bloom before we took the honey.
  • The honey on the bottom right was from mid-August. It had a hint of fennel. Our neighborhood has several areas where wild fennel is growing.
  • The honey on the top left was extracted in mid-September. It was not a viscous as the other honey we extracted and had a slight rose flavor.
  • The darkest honey probably has some Japanese knot weed in it. I do not know of any patches of Japanese knot weed close around us but maybe the bees traveled to get this tasty full bodied treat. It was extracted later in September. The honey in urban areas is seldom from a single source. The major nectar sources in the Pacific Northwest are maple trees early in May to June and blackberry bushes in June to July. These are readily available in the city along with all of the cultivated plants in peoples yards.

Our neighbors had great crops of cherries, grapes and raspberries this last summer. It was a good summer for growing things but I think our bees helped make the harvest bigger with their pollination services.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bee Log #2: November 8, 2009

My husband and I sold honey for a few weeks at the Phinney Ridge Farmers' Market during August and September of 2009. Our display is shown below. It was a great way to meet people and talk bees and honey. Our few urban hives barely kept up with the demand and we completely sold out of the honey that we extracted this summer. (Except for the smelly ivy honey that we collected at the very end of the season! We won't sell that!)
Notice the different colors of honey. The really light honey was from the beginning of the summer and the darker stuff was from later in the season. We hope to be back at the Phinney Ridge Farmers' Market next summer. Last summer, our first honey extraction was July 4 so we expect to have a marketable product sometime around early July of 2010.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bee Log #1: November 7, 2009

Bee Log #1: This is a blog about bees. I keep bees. And, after 2 years of beekeeping, I still feel like a beginner. Frequently, I don't know what to do about bee issues but I am getting better at figuring things out. I think actually what I am figuring out is that my bees do pretty well knowing what they need.

My bees are hunkering down for the winter. I lifted one side of each hive a few inches to make sure that each hive is good and heavy. Two of the hives seemed a bit lighter than the others so they are being fed sugar water (2:1) with a bit of honey mixed in. I put this syrup in mason jars on a front feeder at the hive entrance.

The bees stop reproducing this time of year meaning that the varroa mites also stop reproducing since their reproduction happens inside the sealed brood cells of devoloping bees. This is an opportunity to knock down the mites since all of the mites are now passengers on adult bees. I am using grease patties of wintergreen oil (1 tbsp) mixed with Crisco (2 cups), white sugar (3 cups), honey (1 cup) and mineral salts ground fine (3 tbsp). I mixed this together and put an ice cream scoop full on top of the top frames in the brood box. The wintergreen oil is supposed to take care of the tracheal mites and the grease from the Crisco is supposed to make more of the varroa mites fall off. The mineral salts are supposed to be something that bees need as much as other animals. (I got the mineral salts at De Young's Feed in Woodinville where it is sold by the pound as a cattle supplement). I am looking for scientific research on the effectiveness of this treatment but so far, I haven't found any.

The last honey that I took from the bees this fall was ivy honey. This was gathered when the supers were taken off the hives on October 10. As the frames were extracted, there was an odd odor to the honey that I could not place. Later, while out walking, I went by a patch of ivy full of bees and smelling like the honey I had just extracted. aha! Ivy! The honey crystallized very quickly and is like glue or paste in the jars. I am feeding the honey back to the bees with 2:1 sugar water. Also, I am using the honey in bread (honey whole wheat).