Tag Archives: keeping bees

A very simple DIY wax melter

Those of you who keep bees on natural comb and like to harvest the wax as well, as well as do it yourself on the cheap, here is a super simple, practically free solar wax melter.  It works anytime the temps are above 75 degrees or so.

Materials:

cardboard box

piece of recycled glass or old single pane window

large yogurt container (or two or three, depending on the size of your box)

string

cheesecloth

tinfoil

water

wax cappings and comb from honey harvest or other beekeeping activities

Take the box, line it with tinfoil.  Fill the yogurt container halfway with tap water, and top with a piece of cheesecloth.   Tie the cheesecloth on with a piece of string (rubber band work too, but the heat will degrade them in a day or two) and make an indentation in the middle of the cheesecloth top with your hand.  Pile wax cappings and bits as high as you dare, place in the box.  Place glass on top and leave in a sunny location.  It helps to prop up the box on one side to tilt it slightly towards the sun.  As the wax melts and filters through the cheesecloth, you can add more.  Every day or two remove the filtered wax that is floating on the water in the yogurt container and repeat the process until you are out of wax.  Works great, even in cloudy W. Oregon!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMake sure you have rinsed all of the honey out of your cappings and comb first (you can strain this and use the honey flavored water for making lemonade….delicious!).  And don’t use brood comb-it doesn’t work well, it has too little wax left in it (use that for fire starter when you go camping, it is awesome!  Or put it in your compost).  I use my wax to make hand dipped candles and lip balm.

The blackberry is just beginning to bloom around here, that is the main honeyflow in our area!  Summer is just around the corner….

 

Stoked!

The start sale was a roaring success, I came very close to hitting my sales target (which I honestly had no expectation of actually doing), and I feel like I have gotten a huge vote of confidence and a boost of energy to get this venture launched.  Riding that wave I went ahead and registered my business name with the Oregon Secretary of State, and opened my business bank account.  Whoohoo!  A few things I learned, that I probably already knew:  people love tomatoes.  My tomato table was wiped out except for a few green zebras in the first hour or so.  The greens moved well too, and I had a lot of them.  I have a lot of collards and kales left over, but rabbits and chickens love to eat those and so do I, so I am stuffing my city garden with greens of all descriptions and I will just cut and come again on those as long as I can. People like peppers, but mostly prefer sweets to hot.  I wish I had had more Padrons and more Beaverdam peppers…and I’d love to get my paws on some Gernika pepper seed. I think I have the best looking garden I have ever had, and we have been eating asparagus almost every day.  Delish!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also caught one of the nicest swarms ever last Friday….I am feeling particularly blessed as I broke even on bees this winter:  I lost one hive to Nosema, but was able to split a second hive into two in mid April.  The split seems to be doing well, I saw today several queen cells that had hatched open, I gave that colony a frame of brood, eggs and bees just to give them some extra juice (and a back up option if the new queen fails for some reason) from their super strong original hive.  The warre looks to be busting at the seams, I expect a swarm from that hive in the next week or two when the weather warms up again (though I don’t expect to catch it!  Those tend to be some high flying bees).  The local word is that Portland hives were decimated over the winter, maybe as bad as 50-75% losses according to some.  So as I said, I am feeling really lucky that my bees are for the most part doing well.  Hopefully we can get them moved to the farm before the main honey flow begins!  I was hoping to have 5 hives this season, but four is pretty good, and swarm season isn’t over yet.  Best to build up slowly anyway, I will have plenty to keep track of as it is!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also had a new batch of kits born on Monday, haven’t gotten a good count yet but they seem feisty!  Osprey continues to make great progress….still hasn’t been ridden but now walks easily over a ‘bridge’, and has been trailered to a local arena.  I go see her again tomorrow.  Next week Rachel takes her other mustang to a competition, and he will be auctioned off at the end.  If you live in California and are looking for a really nice horse with a great foundation and a sweet temperament, you should check out Rachel and Titan at the Norco Extreme Mustang Makeover Trail competition.  I will be so sorry to see him go, and really hope he finds a good home with someone who will appreciate him.  He is built like an old school cavalry horse, and I think would look really good going english.  And he jumps 3 feet!   Scroll down this page and you will see a black and white image of a civil war era horse that looks a lot like Titan….(minus the crooked forelegs, Titan is actually very nicely put together).

Springing into May…

In spite of my lack of farm, I am having a garden start sale this weekend, to get the ball rolling, to do a little marketing, and recoup some of my seed costs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you live in Portland and want the details, check out the Long Run Farm website for more information.  Look under the weekly post page.

In other news, Osprey the mustang passed her TIP criteria, and the adoption process is underway!  She is doing beautifully.  She is not under saddle yet, but she does accept one without very much fuss.  She also tolerates flags, although plastic bags on sticks are still suspect.  I bought my first ton of hay from a friend, and scored some cheap horse accoutrements (brushes, fly masks, rubber buckets) at the Small Farmers Journal Auction last week.  Boy was that fun!  Lots of weird old equipment, piles and piles of harness (literally), charismatic old farmers galore, and cute young farm boys prancing around in chaps and dusters that were up for auction.  Met some amazing horse farmers and teamsters, and learned a lot about equipment, harness, and auctions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe final major paperwork is through the county, we could actually be within a couple of weeks of closing….I’ll believe it when I am writing the check, but keep thinking your good thoughts!

Bees are well, I made a split of my big hive, and looked at the split today:  saw a few queen cells, the bees are starting to thin down the ends, so the ladies should be hatching right in the middle of the lovely weather we are having.  Perfect.  I also got my first sting of the season today, a sure sign of warm weather.  We have been making the most of this waiting period, my husband and I have both landed two spring Chinook so far.  Which reminds me, I’m off to pick some asparagus for smoked salmon pizza…..cheers!

 

 

 

A spring in our step

A few signs of spring, and the beginning of the growing season:

Here is our newest doe Cookie, daughter of Snacks:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here are a few of her babies, all black and brown:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn spite of my lack of farm, I have started my onions at least.  I think these are Red Long of Tropea….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI built a couple of 24″x48″ heat mats out of 1×2, plywood and incandescent rope christmas lights.  Economical (about a third of the cost of similar sized heat mats).  For seed starting in the basement they work great, in my tiny drafty greenhouse they need a little supplemental insulation or cover (I use plastic draped over the table) to stay warm in weather like we are having today (39 degrees and rainy).  Here is a link on how to build them (one edit:  I’d cut the 1×2’s to 44″, not 40″).  The downside of these is monitoring, they are not on any kind of thermostat, so the ones in the greenhouse will have to be monitored on warm sunny days.  Or I can put them on a timer once things start to warm up.

Unlike today, yesterday was beautiful, and the bees were flying.  I lost one hive this winter, but the other two look good!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the warre colony, they are on year 4!  But I shouldn’t speak too soon, we are not out of the woods yet.  I never really relax in spring until the maples bloom, but so far everyone has plenty of stores.

Hope your bees and seeds and babies are doing well!

Putting the cart before the horse, take 2

So, last night all my river guidin’, horseback ridin’, western cowgirl farmer wannabee big truck fantasies came true.  We found a rig to tow the Dingo (and other things)!  Sorry for the low quality pic, but she is a beaut.  And my husband even got me the old school Pacific Wonderland plates, sweet man.

She's big, she's white, she's 4WD....

Every girl needs one, and a good man is useful too….

In other news, we had an above average backyard honey harvest, the latest batch of baby bunnies are adorable, and they have cut the trees in the last section of the parcel behind the farm we expect to close on in November.  Looks like a natural disaster back there, but also feels oddly like forward progress.  And of course we wanted them to finish logging before we bought, as that will be easier for everybody.  There was a beautiful doe looking for apples under the apple tree…..which looks like it might be a Gravenstein!  And there should be a fantastic walnut crop, if the squirrels don’t get them all.

cheers!

Bee Season

The grass is growing, the bees are flying, the trees are budding, the spring chinook are in the river, and that all spells one thing to this beekeeper.  Swarm season!  I plan to stash a couple of swarm traps out at the little farm-to-be this week (which is late!  I should have them up already!).  The earliest swarm I have heard of around here was on Easter Sunday, and that is next weekend!

For those of you new to beekeeping, swarm catching is a great way to expand your apiary.  It is also good to know how to catch your own bees if/when they swarm.  If you have never done it before, go with an experienced beekeeper once or twice to see how it is done.  I often teach a swarm catching class this time of year, but thought I would post for the world at large my swarm kit and some good basic recommendations for the would bee swarm catcher.  All of this is common sense information, but good to refer to when bee fever is in full swing.  A few good questions at the start can save you a lot of time and gas money.bees closeup

BE AN AMBASSADOR FOR THE BEES

  1. Be courteous, calm, confident, and prepared to answer a lot of questions about bees.
  2. Don’t get in over your head.
  3. Don’t commit to removing the bees unless you are absolutely sure you can, and don’t feel obligated to put yourself in unnecessary danger.  You are a volunteer, not a superhero. Tell people you will do your best, but make sure they know that you can’t fly, for example, and that those bees 40 feet up in a tree really pose no threat to anyone.  Use phrases like “I will check it out and remove them if I can” instead of “I will take care of those bees for you”.
  4. Save yourself a lot of unnecessary driving around by asking a lot of questions before you go (see below).  Ask the property owner to call you if the bees leave before you arrive.
  5. Make sure the relationship is clear.  There are some kooks out there that want to charge You for removing their bees for them.  If people offer money I often suggest they make a donation to Zenger Farm  or the Xerces Society if they want to help bees.  Or you can accept it to cover some of your costs….
  6. Carry some printed information to hand out to people if they want it.  Make sure your contact info is on there, as other swarms may occur in the same area (or you might have left something behind!).

SWARM KIT

 

  1. Ventilated cardboard box or spare hive body.  Make sure it has a bottom, lid, and an entrance/exit that you can seal up for transport!  I use #8 (1/8th inch) hardware cloth and duct tape to seal the entrance….make sure the bees get plenty of air!
  2. Protective clothing:  I use a Tyvek suit tucked into boots, gloves, and veil.
  3. 1/1 sugar syrup spray in a spray bottle.  Mine usually has a few drops of lemongrass and mint essential oil.
  4. Ladder
  5. White sheet (lay this under the swarm and the swarm box to prevent bees from getting lost in the grass and stepped on)
  6. Time.  The process can take an hour or two, not including travel.
  7. Bee Brush, dust pan, sheetrock knife (this is less annoying to the bees than a brush if used gently).
  8. Duct tape (for sealing up box/hive body for transport).

    Swarm in my apple tree

    Swarm in my apple tree

Non essentials that are nice to have:

9.  Benadryl and Epinephrine just in case….

10. Loppers/pruners/pruning saw.

11. Long handled broom.

12. Bait for the box:  lemongrass essential oil, old brood comb.

13. Assistant (if possible).

14. Referral Cards and Information handouts, these bees may swarm again!

15. Cell phone.

16. Bee Vac/extension pole with bucket or net/other tricky high swarm gear

QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE YOU GO

  1. Sure they are honeybees?  (not wasps, not bumblebees?)
  2. Sure they are swarming? (in a clump in a tree or on a fence etc, not an established colony in some cavity).
  3. How large is the swarm clump?  (if they are the size of a lemon, it may not be worth your time, if they are the size of a soccer ball then…Bonanza!).
  4. How far off the ground?  (people are terrible at judging this, but if it sounds like you need wings then don’t go unless they have a cherry picker to loan you).
  5. How long have they been there?  Minutes?  Hours? Days?  (This question will often sort out the swarms from the structural removals and established colonies in bee trees)
  6. Location:  Street address, contact person’s phone number, description of exact location (“in the apple tree in the front yard right at eye level”) if the property owner cannot meet you there.

Don’t forget to ask that they call you back if the bees leave before you get there!

This information is only partial, I would take a class or at least have a good handle on bee behavior and the biology behind swarming, and go with someone who has experience a few times if possible.  I am currently reading the book Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley, which I would say is a must read for anyone wanting to set up swarm traps or bait hives.  Here is another excellent reference on catching swarms (and I think Matt has now caught more than anyone I know!) from the Beethinking Website.

And finally, of course, you must be fashionable when catching swarms.  Diamonds are perhaps a bit much, but pearls (and cowgirl boots!) go with any occasion.

bee fashionistas

In other news:  the cart is finished, it turned out great and is currently being tested out at Square Peg Farm.  I will post about that soon…like when I relocate my camera.  Also, we got our first batch of baby bunnies last week!  So far I have counted seven, but they should be out and hopping about in a few days.  Happy bee chasing!

Spring Bee Classes in the Portland Area

Here are the classes on beekeeping I have found in the Portland area for spring 2013.  If you are looking to take a beekeeping class, sign up now, as they fill up quickly, and many of the mid February classes are already full (I have only listed classes that as of today appear to have space).  Remember this is also the time to order bees and equipment, and inventory your gear for the upcoming season.

Beethinking  Top Bar Beekeeping class Feb 19

Livingscape Nursery:  Beekeeping basics, Feb 23

Ruhl Bee Supply:  Top Bar Hives Feb 23  Beekeeping Basics, March 9  Spring Management March 23

Willamette Valley Beekeepers Association Bee School  Feb 14, 19, 21  (the class is comprehensive and taught over three days).  This link also includes information on the other two ORSBA sponsored bee schools in the area:

Astoria Bee School  March 16

Tualatin Valley Beekeepers Association April 8, 10, 13  (also taught over three days)

Friendly Haven Rise Farm in S. Washington has ongoing beekeeping workshops with a biodynamic focus.  Check their website for dates.

Portland Nursery is now offering a bee class.  Feb 23.

I will not be teaching any beekeeping classes for Zenger Farm this year, if any bee classes do get on their schedule I will post.  Zenger does have a lot of other cool workshops available to the community, so check them out!

Also check out the Oregon Master Beekeeper program….I believe you need to sign up about a year in advance, and I know the program is also looking for additional instructors.  This is season long hands on instruction…a great way to learn and connect with the beekeeping community.

top bar bees fall 2011