Brooke had been meaning to get into the hives for the past month or so, but the weather simply wouldn’t cooperate this Spring. March and April had very few warm-ish days and they were typically followed by long rain sessions. Then, if we actually had some good weather on a weekend, we’d be out of town and still unavailable.
Eventually, after Girl’s Weekend, Brooke was able to leave work early and open up the hives and see how the bees were doing. We’d noticed that there wasn’t much bee activity coming out of the hives on the warm-ish days, but again, as weather was back-and-forth for awhile, we couldn’t be sure whether there was a problem or whether the bees simply didn’t know what was going on with the weather situation.
Unfortunately, there were no bees. Our original hive from 2016 was completely empty and was likely “robbed” by another hive of bees. There was still some honey in the 2017 hive, but no bees to speak of, so they likely took their queen and swarmed sometime earlier in the year. The food Brooke put in late in Winter was still there, so it’s likely they left sometime shortly after she was last in the hive.
In many ways, we count ourselves lucky, as many beekeepers lose 1/3 of their hives in a given year and we didn’t lose any last year, so we were probably due to have something like this happen. We’re going to “re-set” the hive boxes to be lifted up a bit before putting any more bees in there, so in some ways, it’s a good opportunity to take stock of how we’ve been managing them and correct a few things before any new bees take up residence.
Thankfully, we’ve still got a decent amount of honey available to get us through the next few months. We think we may be able to score an extra package of bees from Brooke’s Dad in the next few weeks, depending on how his bees hold up. It’s the right time of year for bees to be delivered, so we’re hopeful that if Mark doesn’t end up having extra, someone else will, and Brooke has enough contacts now that we can probably get something going.
I’ve been meaning to post something for a bit, but with the weather we’ve had these past few weeks, we haven’t done all that much! In the past month, we had a few nights in the -10 F range and at least a week where we didn’t go above freezing. Last Tuesday, school was cancelled for Meg because we weren’t expected to get above 10 F, and apparently waiting for a bus when it’s -3 F in the morning isn’t ideal…
Anyway, this past week, temperatures started getting up into the 40 F range for once, getting rid of the snow we had last week… Yesterday, we made it into the 50s (though I was on campus working with a Science Olympiad competition we were running, so I didn’t get to really enjoy the weather all that much), and today, we’re in the mid-60s. Not bad for late-January!
We’ve been keeping an eye on the bees throughout this process, as they don’t survive well when it’s below 0 F for extended periods of time. Generally, as long as you’ve got enough bees in a hive, they can surround the queen and flap their wings enough to keep everyone warm and survive. We had some much colder days this winter than last winter, though, so we weren’t sure how they’d handle it.
Based on the picture above, they did just fine! Brooke got in and put in a solid feeder “cake” sort of thing to get them through the rest of winter (at least, most of the way there) and she pulled off the super to keep them concentrated in the lower portions of the hive. They’re pretty active on a day like today, so hopefully they don’t burn through the rest of their food supply thinking it’s Spring (hint: it isn’t).
In other news, in keeping with this blog’s need to post everything garden-related possible, here are some popcorn ears Brooke finally picked. Because, you know…it’s January.
Like I said, we had some snow last week on Martin Luther King Day when both kids were off school, so it was the perfect time for Calvin to go sledding for the first time. Again, it hasn’t gotten than cold the past few years and, incidentally, we haven’t had enough snow for sledding since we first moved here, so Calvin hasn’t been old enough to enjoy it yet.
We took around 12 frames to Hannibal over the July 4th Weekend to extract some honey! Ultimately, the process took a few hours and was mostly carried out in the garage in order to keep bees from homing in on their wares and coming to reclaim it.
This was the first time we’d extracted our own stuff (though we combined ours with 6 or 8 frames of Mark’s stock), so I grabbed a few pictures of the process, as we had multiple questions across Instagram and Facebook asking how this all worked.
After Brooke used her sweet serrated knife up above to scrape off the wax cappings on the frames, they were put in an extractor 4-at-a-time. Basically, the extractor is a metal barrel with a hand crank that acts as a centrifuge. The honey is pulled out using centrifugal force and it drops down to the bottom of the barrel. A spigot is down there to allow for draining into another bucket after filtration, as there’s a lot of extra “stuff” in there we don’t want (i.e. wax, dead bees, etc.).
After all of this was done, we ended up with around 6 gallons of honey, which was far more than we were expecting!
Anyway, remember the new hive? Well, Brooke didn’t put frames in it last weekend after we got back. So, she got in there today and we found out the bees have been kinda busy!
So busy, they made new comb in the empty spaces where the frames used to be…
There isn’t a great solution to this, as the new comb had honey and brood in it. Brooke ended up shaving off the comb into the super on top, then putting a “queen excluder” above the super (to, obviously, prevent the queen from crossing the barrier), and then put a new super on top of the hive.
The crazy thing is that this is the new hive that’s only about 3 months old. Apparently, they’re doing fine! Doing some crazy stuff, but still doing fine!
There isn’t much to talk about right now, but I did want to note a few goings-on from the last few weeks with regard to the good ol’ Marshall Homestead…
The green beans, tomatoes, soup beans, pumpkins and watermelons are all moving along pretty well! There are some tiny green tomatoes on the plants and the green beans are flowering, so all’s well on that front. The green pepper plants are still pretty small: two of them are looking good, while the other two are on the short side, and are getting encroached by “volunteer” tomato plants from last year.
Other than that, Brooke laid waste to the remaining lettuce, pea plants and carrots this weekend and ended up with a substantial carrot crop. The lettuce had gone to seed a week or two ago, so it was time to end them, and the carrots had been in for months now, so it was time to pull them up.
After hours of processing (that, thankfully, I had very little to do with), we ended up with ~15 lbs of carrots, 12 lbs of which Brooke chopped up, blanched, then vacuum-sealed and dropped in the freezer. Last year, we also got a lot of carrots, but we left them in the fridge crisper for far too long and then ended up “floppy,” which isn’t exactly great if you like raw carrots.
Still, despite Brooke’s metric ton of time working with them, she’s pretty satisfied with the haul of organic carrots she grew.
Otherwise, a few weeks ago, Brooke checked out her beehives and removed 6 shallow frames-worth of combed honey. There’s more in there, but some frames had brood and others weren’t quite full yet. Our new hive from late-April is also doing well, so Brooke put the super on it in hopes we’ll be able to get some honey from them later this summer, too.
Brooke will scrape off the wax from these and likely make some candles (among other things), and she’ll extract the honey along with her Dad this weekend, as he’s got some frames to process, too.
Generally (as I can’t remember if I ever explained this…), honey extraction involves removal of the wax cappings, insertion of the frames into a cylindrical drum, and then spinning them around to use centrifugal force, pulling the honey out and allowing it to drop down to the bottom of the drum, thus letting you fill up jars of honey. It’s a messy and time-intensive process, so while you could get honey directly from these frames, it’s a lot easier to process a lot of frames all at once, saving you clean-up time.
Therefore, we will figure out how much honey we got this weekend. 🙂
The last thing I wanted to mention was that Japanese Beetles have arrived in Marshall. The two pictured above were on our neighbor’s tree, but we’ve seen them on our trees, too, as well as on our sunflowers. We’ve got multiple leaves that look like those pictured above. Our understanding is that this crop of beetles were spending their time reproducing and laying eggs, all of which will hatch later this summer and wreak havoc. Hopefully, our growing season will be mostly done by then…
Still, we put in some praying mantids last week in an effort to kill off insect-derived pests while not spraying anything on our flowering green beans, as that would likely affect our bees. We’ll see if it work… We ordered the mantids and put them in a cage (an old bee package) back in late-May and it took almost 3 weeks for them to show up. There were 10s, if not 100, of them in that package before we released them on our green beans, so hopefully they do their jobs.
I’ve got a few things to cover here, so it may get kinda lengthy… The first thing that bears mention is the bees! We don’t have chickens here (yet…), but for the time-being, bees will be our means of extending this homesteading venture beyond growing stuff in the ground. Brooke ordered some bees a few months ago and they arrived in early-May. Since that time, we’ve largely left them alone, aside from giving them copious amounts of sugar water to keep them happy until more flowers are blooming. The hives are in the yucca plants underneath our maple trees near the garden, providing them with a decent amount of protection from the elements (more on that soon…). They don’t get a ton of sun, but I’ve trimmed the maple trees a bit to make sure they get it for at least an hour in the morning and in the evening. We’ll see how they do there, but right now, it seems like they get especially active in the early 10:00 hour and remain that way until the evening. In the picture above, Brooke was opening up the hive to make sure the queen was doing her job and, at least a few weeks ago, it seemed like comb was being laid and brood were present, so thus far, the bees appear to be doing their jobs!
Now, speaking of “protection from the elements…
A pretty big hail storm came through just before Memorial Day weekend. And by “huge,” I mean some pretty big hail. It was over golf ball size at our house, but larger stones fell just north of us. Thankfully, Brooke’s new car was on the other side of the state at the time and mine was in the garage…
The house is mostly undamaged, but we’ve got a few estimates coming in to see if we need to do anything. The garage roof needs to be replaced, but we need to look at just how much work we want to put into it right now.
Again, the bees were fine because of their placement under the trees, but the garden got hit pretty hard. Brooke had just planted green beans, soup beans, and soybeans in the garden plot above, where you see a small ocean forming.
Our tomatoes were mostly spared, but many of the milk jug covers were blown off as the storm came in. The unprotected plants were mostly decimated, but the ones that remained covered were fine. We lost a few plants, but the rest of them have bounced back pretty well by now. The peas got hit too, as they were probably the largest plants at the time. Since then, Brooke has harvested all the peas and pulled up the plants so we can make room for planting popcorn.
We still don’t feel like we’re getting all that many peas. This is the third time we’ve done it and it seems like we’re always getting enough peas for one or two meals. We can make green beans and soup beans like nobody’s business, but peas are always difficult for us. They tasted great last night! We just want more…
The carrots are looking good and probably need to get pulled soon. Again, the peas and radishes were to the left of the carrots, and we’re going to put some popcorn over there today or tomorrow. The weather looks to be getting pretty hot this week (highs in the low 90s), and no rain chance in sight, so we’ll get them planted and I’ll need to water them in the coming days.
We’ve been gone for the past few weekends, and any available time during the week has been taken up by Brooke traveling, or by rain, so we hadn’t planted the rest of the garden yet. Finally, yesterday, Brooke made some mounds next to the tomatoes where the pumpkins are going to go. This is a section of the garden that flooded last year, so we’re hoping the mounds keep the pumpkins out of the water better than the corn seeds were last year.
We’re also trying watermelons for the first time, but considering they were planted in early June, we probably won’t actually get any until September. Not exactly “prime watermelon season,” but hey…we’ll see what happens…
Thankfully, the beans survived the hail and flooding from last week! Since then, the green beans and soup beans all popped up and are looking great. The soybeans are moving a bit more slowly, but I think nearly all of those seeds popped out of the ground, too. We’re adding fewer green bean and soup bean plants than previous years because we’ve still got green beans canned from two summers ago. If the soybeans take off, we’ll probably keep using those in the coming years for edamame. Soybeans are good nitrogen-fixing plants, so we’ll rotate them around the gardens to maintain good soil health.
The herbs I planted in the plot in the background are kinda growing, but not all that well. Many of them got hit hard by the hail and a few of them weren’t looking great when we put them in the ground. We’ll just have to see how they turn out. In the extra patch to the right, Brooke planted some sunflowers yesterday. The bees will like them, too!
Lastly, I wanted to mention the hops we’re growing in Hannibal. Clearly they’re doing as well as they usually do! Mark and Diana got us a nice new vacuum sealer for Christmas this past year, so we’re looking forward to harvesting and saving some of these hops once they’re ready, hopefully earlier than we tend to harvest them.
Unlike previous years, though, it looks like somethings chewing on the leaves. I didn’t see anything obvious on them, but the evidence is pretty clear. I’m sure Mark will keep an eye on them, as he planted some new fruit trees near the hops, so he’ll be out there checking on everything frequently.
I think that’s about it for now! Lengthy post, lots of pictures…you know how it goes…