Bees In Our Bonnets

The (mis)adventures of raising honey bees in Minnesota

Archive for the ‘The Four Horsemen Apiary’ Category

On the rebound

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Per the last post, I lost all four of our hives this winter.

I didn’t winterize as thorough as I ought to have, and the excluder bars were not set properly. Horsemen #1 was helping me today, and he saw a couple of voles scurry out of War when we began work, and there was evidence of boring on some of the frames.

My bad.

My favorite bee supply source, Nature’s Nectar, managed to scrounge together a couple of packages of Carniolans for us out of his first package shipment, so we put those in Famine and War (our original two hives).

We found that while both top deeps were heavy with honey, the bottom two deeps in each hive were pretty much cleaned of honey and pollen.

So, we now have two productive hives with Carniolans. With any luck, Jim over at Nature’s Nectar will have some spares from his second package delivery next week.

Written by beesinourbonnet

23 April 2013 at 17:50

Posted in new bees, The Four Horsemen Apiary

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Not an auspicious start to the year

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I went down to my local bee supply guy and picked up pollen patties, and bought sugar to make feeder pails.

Our winter wasn’t harsh, but it’s still going on! We had 4 inches of snow on April 18th. I figured we’d have to feed our bees for at least two weeks and possibly as much as four before we get nectar flow.

The Horsemen went up the hill for me to look into the hives while I was out running errands, and it turns out we’ve lost all four hives.

All dead as doornails.

At least one of them died early on, because Horseman #4 couldn’t lift Pestilence’s top deep box by himself.

sigh Guess I’m going to have to spend $300 on four new bee packages — if I can find four of them this late in the season.

It was a crap winter, and now it looks like spring isn’t going to be much better.

Written by beesinourbonnet

20 April 2013 at 17:23

Our fall honey harvest!

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We’ve been busy as our bees this summer and fall with the Minnesota state campaign urging voters to reject the proposed amendment to permanently ban marriage equality, so the blog has been neglected lately.

Have no fear, though! We pulled our honey frames a couple of weeks ago, and we got almost exactly 10 gallons of honey from three of our four hives! As usual, hive Famine created almost exactly nothing in two honey super boxes; that one is going to have to be requeened in the spring.

Here is what part of the harvest from the Four Horsemen Apiary looks like for 2012:

Our honey is yellower than usual, most likely from the abundant goldenrod bloom we had earlier this year. The flavor is moderately floral — more so than last year, but not nearly as fragrant and flavorful as 2010′s harvest. (Beekeepers say that 2010 was the best honey harvest in 30 years.)

Plans for next year include requeening Famine, putting down landscape fabric and mulching the beeyard, and getting some nifty signs made for the hives (so that when I refer to Pestilence, everyone else will know which one I’m referring to).

(Thanks so much to Russ for the label design!)

Written by beesinourbonnet

6 October 2012 at 07:59

It’s a new year for the Four Horsemen Apiary!

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The Great Frozen North has not been so great or so frozen this years as it was in past years; it was a very mild winter. We’re barely into March and we’re already in the 50s and 60s regularly…

…and with that comes the new year for our bees.

Jim Kloeck over at Nature’s Nectar was getting the word out that an early spring is going to mean hungry bees. We’re not going to see any blooming nectar or pollen sources for awhile, so we’ll have to tide everyone over with early rations. Ours have been doing their early cleansing flights, so it’s also time to get the hives in order for the season.

Pestilence, pre-spring treatment

I picked up some pollen patties and a new feed bucket (we lost one last year). Gathering up my hive supplies, I trudged up the hill to get everyone squared away.

The hives in Minnesota have to be wintered with a black, waxed cardboard sheave to keep the wind and wet out. There is a bottom winterproofing board covering the mesh bottom board. That came out, and I took the sleaves off of the hives.

I checked for bee activity. The two newer hives (Pestilence and Death) both swarmed last year, and neither have been particularly robust since. Here is a peak into Pestilence’s interior:

Pretty quiet, and I’m a bit worried about this one. However, there is nothing to do for that right now, so I proceed with getting the hives un-wintered:

  • remove the moisture-absorbent wickboard (keeps the hive from getting too damp)
  • remove the black cardboard outer sleeve
  • remove the cardboard mite-treatment strips from last fall (I was told the bees would break those strips down, but they didn’t)
  • put down a pollen patty atop the frame tops

    Leave the waxed paper liners on the patties -- the bees will eat them away

  • put the inner lid down atop the patty
  • place the feed bucket full of 1:1 sugar/water mixture atop the inner lid
  • place a super box atop the inner lid
  • place the outer lid atop the super box
  • don’t forget to get that weight atop the outer lid (like a nice rock)

There. Now your hive is ship-shape for the following season.

A caveat: if your top brood box is medium heavy to heavy, don’t feed sugar water to them; they have sufficient honey stores. However, you do need to give them pollen patties. There is nothing in our area bee-forage-wise that is due to bloom for at least a month.

Our apiary's two newer hives Pestilence and Death

Our two original hives Famine and War

Written by beesinourbonnet

10 March 2012 at 15:22

Avis melliferis arising in St. Paul

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We got our Italians ladies installed into three of the four hives in our Four Horsemen Apiary today. We have two new hives, and poor War has to be repopulated.

First things first–getting War repopulated. I’d cleaned out the hive decently well:

There was a lot of honey left in War, and some of it spilled onto the bottom board.

I took off the top deep and redistributed its frames to the other three hives, since those frames are just bursting with honey and pollen. (The ladies in War must have died early in the winter, and I’m still not sure why.)

The new queen went in without a hitch…

All shiny and new!

The pollen patty went in, and the syrup bucket went in atop the inner cover, and War’s ready to become the great producer it was last year. (We got 16 pints of honey for it, and that’s a good yield for a first-year hive.)

Famine was in decent shape; we’ve been seeing cleansing flights for several weeks, and I found a modest amount of honey and pollen in it a month ago. I checked the pollen patty that’s been in there for awhile and it was in decent shape. So a syrup bucket went on, and Famine’s locked and loaded.

On to the new hives–Death and Pestilence–in the next post!

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2 May 2011 at 18:46

“They’re heeeeere!”

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Our three packages of Italian bees showed up a day early at Nature’s Nectar!

One of the three packages of Italians--2011

Full report later tonight about the new hives Death and Pestilence, and the repopulation of War.

Written by beesinourbonnet

2 May 2011 at 16:01

Urban homesteaders and lawyers and bees, oh my!

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My dad was a gardener. We lived on a small farm, but the philosophy of urban homesteading was how our family lived- we grew it, canned it, froze it, gathered it, repaired it, built it ourselves or did without. No one invented that, it’s just what you did. My dad planted a huge garden every year, and we grew far more than we could eat. He did that in order to make sure there was a lot of produce to fill the boxes we delivered in the middle of the night to widows, poor people and retired folks who had a hard time making ends meet. That wasn’t an outreach program, it’s just what you did.

How my urban homestead got started

Years later, after I finished college, got married and had a house of my own, I was finally ready to put in my garden. Except that my house wasn’t on 10 acres, it was a tiny city lot. Instead of cleaning the chicken coop and putting that on the garden, I had to search for a source of manure. Still, I knew what needed doing and began doing it. I wanted my children to know how to grow their own food, how to cook it fresh and preserve it for later. I put in a small garden in my nearly invisible-to-the-naked-eye backyard, and began growing as many vegetables as space permitted. The lack of space was a problem, but the biggest problem was that no one else in my neighbourhood was doing this. In fact, no one ever came outside! We’d lived and gardened there for 3 years without seeing some of the neighbours, ever. That bothered me most of all.

That’s when I tore up the side lawn to build large raised beds.The beds bumped up against the sidewalk all along one side of my property. Well, that got the neighbours’ attention. People came up and said,”Someone will take your vegetables!”. Splendid- that was exactly what I was hoping for! Within a few weeks the lettuces were up and growing, I had the trellises built for cucumbers, melons, squash and beans, and it was finally warm enough to plant out the tomatoes and eggplants. Because the neighbourhood I lived in was very ethnically mixed, I found seeds for a variety of unusual (to me) veggies, and grew bitter gourd, a bunch of Chinese greens, the Middle Eastern cucumber and the gorgeous purple Italian vining beans. Soon, I had neighbours walking by asking about the vegetables- what were they, whose were they, could they buy some? I labeled the plants, spent hours outside talking to anyone who’d stop by and explained that the food was for whoever wanted it.

Soon, people were waiting outside when I got up in the morning. We would weed and water before the sun got too hot, I’d start the next round of seedlings in flats and tend to them, and people began staying late to talk to each other. Two women, both from Lebanon, had lived next to each other for 3 years yet only met at my garden, and they became fast friends. Children in the neighbourhood liked to pick the cherry tomatoes and eat them still warm from the sun. Old Greek ladies began stopping by to pull leaves from a wild grape which grew up the side of my garage, and I began receiving plates of delicious fresh dolmades. This is how I became an urban homesteader, and why- because in the end, its all about building a community, and my garden on my first urban homestead grew both food and friendships.

How an urban homesteader and her new husband got bees in their bonnets

The one thing my first urban homestead lacked was a beehive. I’ve been collecting books and reading articles about bees for years. However, my yard was much too small to accommodate vegetables, dogs, kids and bees, so beekeeping remained a dream. Then, I remarried. While house-hunting with my fiance, I mentioned that if we had a large enough property we could raise bees. Now, New Hubby is adorable and loves the idea of gardening, although he is strictly a city person- but the instant I mentioned bees, he was head over heels in love with the idea! He began reading about bees, and we signed up for an excellent short course on hobby beekeeping. Armed with our newfound knowledge and a credit card, we bought two hives and two boxes of bees, and set out on the newest adventure in our quest to live more sustainably. The ride home with two boxes of irritated bees in the backseat of the minivan was interesting, but once installed in their new hives, our girls have been calm, amiable, and most important, hard-working. We were lucky, as this past summer was reportedly the best for honey production in years, but our first-year hives produced a fair amount of honey for us. As soon as we bottled the honey last fall, we made the rounds of the neighbours, thanking them for not panicking when we brought bees into an otherwise peaceful suburb, and giving them jars of beautiful fresh honey. In doing so, we also got the opportunity to talk to many of them about what we’re doing here, what urban homesteading is and why we feel so strongly about it. Maybe we haven’t made any converts, but we did get a lot of requests for veggies this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to grow much more than we need and will be able to send boxes of fresh produce over to the neighbours. Not because it’s outreach, but because it’s what you do.

What’s the big deal about being an urban homesteader?

It’s all about the community, to me. Sharing gardening tips, extra seeds and new curse words when the weather plays some capricious trick on a newly planted tomato bed is what makes urban homesteading so appealing. Growing my own food and teaching my children not only how but why we do this is important to me. It’s partly a way to pass on my dad’s legacy to the grandsons he never knew, and partly a way to show them how important it is to take care of each other. That’s why the notion of anyone trying to own the phrase ‘urban homesteader’ makes me angry. Urban homesteading is all about sharing- knowledge, tools if we live near each other, seeds by mail, and physical labour when needed. Trying to control the movement, taking credit for it and preventing others from being able to practice their livelihood is not a part of urban homesteading. Helping each other to improve is what it’s all about, not a big greedy grab for fame. The Dervaes family have suffered the biggest loss in this fracas. They have lost the admiration and respect of much of the urban homestead movement. They’ve lost the right to be a voice for any of us. Most important, they have lost the support of a huge group of wonderful, caring, sharing people. That’s a lot to throw away over a two-word phrase. I am an urban homesteader- and I am both proud of and humbled by the others in the movement that I’ve met over the past week. I’m going to be helping with the battle over the name, both by using my title proudly and by doing what I can to support the legal battle which is sure to follow. I’m going to help my fellow urban homesteaders because it’s just what you do.

Written by beesinourbonnet

21 February 2011 at 11:56

Harvest! part one

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War with its three honey supers

It was that time of the year at the Four Horsemen Apiary. It was early September, and the nectar flow is slowing down in the Twin Cities area. About all that’s left is the goldenrod, aster, and purple loosestrife (although there’s a fair amount of all left). We decided it was time.

We took Famine’s single super off first, and to no surprise there was no honey in it at all, and very little drawout. Famine had never been as industrious as War, and its super went on late in the season.

I cleaned up Famine’s hive, placed a thymol tin in the top (we decided to treat preemptorily for mites), and that hive good to go for the balance of the year (after another thymol treatment in two weeks).

Famine ready for the winter

The next hive was War. She has three supers (very industrious hive, particularly for its first year), so I took all the supers off at once and set them aside. It’s easier to do that than to take off one super at a time to clear the bees out.

Next came examination. The uppermost super was pretty bare except for the frame I’d taken out of the second super to “seed” it. However, the first and second supers were quite rich. The bottommost super had quite a bit of capped cells, while the middle super was mostly uncapped. (There are some ‘keepers that leave uncapped frames alone.)

The best way to clear bees off of frames is to take each frame and “flick” it. Writer Neil Gaiman demonstrates this here:

Any bees that don’t come off easily that way can be removed with the use of a soft brush.

You brush from the bottom up, in order to disturb the little darlings as little as possible

You have to quickly store each cleaned frame in something the bees cannot get into, because they really don’t want to give up their hard-earned work. (We had a hard lesson with this the following week.)

I cleaned up all three supers’ worth of frames, and then put a thymol tin into War, and got the lids on the hive.

Next up: extraction, and the results!

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15 September 2010 at 08:29

“How high can you stack…honey?”

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Famine and War continue to develop well!

Famine got its first honey super:

Famine with its first super!

Famine has been much slower to develop than War, but the third deep brood box has at least some drawn-out comb on all frames, so it’s time.

War, on the other hand, just got its third super!

War and three supers!

I’ve gotten some drawout on half the frames on the second super, and there’s a rule of thumb that a lot of beekeepers use: when you add a super, add two. It never hurts, and it’s heartbreaking to have your hive swarm in the middle of honey production because of lack of space into which to expand.

(We had to buy pre-built supers with plastic frames this time. Jim over at Nature’s Nectar didn’t have anything else, and may not have anything at all for awhile.)

We’re heading for the downhill slide on honey and pollen supplies in the Great Frozen North Minnesota. There is a fair amount of purple loosestrife (an invasive) in our area that is beginning to bloom, and that will be one of the last big supplies for the year. We’ll likely harvest our honey after that growth is playing out.

When we harvest the supers, we test for varroa mite counts in both hives. If the results look the least bit iffy, we are prepared to treat with Apiguard, which is oil of thyme imbedded in a volatile gel. The bees get into the dish of Apiguard and proceed to move the gel out of the hive through the bottom entrance, but track the gel through the hive as they do so. That will keep the mite population under control. You have to harvest your honey first, though; otherwise, the honey will develop anĀ  unpleasant odor.

Written by beesinourbonnet

7 August 2010 at 19:12

Continued good news!

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Had an email chat with a local beekeeper (one of the two folks that teaches the “how to raise bees in northern climes” class at the University of Minnesota). We were concerned about this:

Note the halo of honey cells around what appeared to be darkly-colored brood cells.

We were concerned about how dark it had gotten. We weren’t smelling any foulbrood off-scents, but we were still worried.

Anyway, apparently everything is copacetic.

So, we now have a second honey super atop War (and it’s beginning to draw out nicely), and Famine’s third brood box is getting completely drawn out (finally!). We’ll be adding a super to that one as well after I get down to the local bee supply shop on Saturday to pick up two more super boxes.

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3 August 2010 at 23:01

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