Crapped Out

Some of our bees are sick.  We added several new colonies this spring, which were installed as packages back in March.  From the beginning, only 2 of them were growing strongly.  2 died out almost immediately, despite requeening and other efforts.  The third succumbed recently.  Honey beekeeping is often described as legalized gambling.   And my game is not looking so good.  When your child is sick you call a pediatrician.  Your dog = vet.  Your bees?  The NC State Apiary Inspector.

Honeybees carrying varroa mites

A few weeks ago, we called in the expert, Don Hopkins,  from central NC to take a look at our colonies.  Based on my description of the symptoms, he told me how his counterparts up and down the East coast have been reporting similar problems; new colonies failing to thrive and showing illness symptoms despite best conditions.  These inspectors are scratching their collective heads wondering if this is yet another new disease ‘vectored’ off the notorious varroa mite.  Mites themselves are a bit like ticks to humans.  They weaken bees but worse, transmit viruses which deform bees and interrupt their ability to forage among other things.  This is the kryptonite plaguing our nation’s honeybees.

Hives destroyed due to AFB

Don and I went through the living 2 colonies for signs of disease.  Virus?  Bacteria?  BOTH??  There are several possibilities but Don didn’t see any classic textbook signs of the worst disease – American Foulbrood.  It is a bacterial disease for which there is no treatment.
Equipment can be fumigated but is often destroyed by burning.  Ouch.  Expensive ouch.  After reviewing our hives, Don wagered that we might be facing the slightly less horrific, European Foulbrood.  It too is a bacterial disease spread in larval tissue but is treatable by antibiotic.  But we don’t know yet.  Sigh.

How did they get sick?  Where did it come from?  Well, we still don’t know what ‘it’ is.  But given the incidence of similar happenings in other hives this spring, it may have come with mites on the new package bees.  But it could have come from my equipment or they may have picked up mites as they were foraging.  Although satisfying, the important point is not to point at the snotty toddler who infected your kid, but to make the little ones better.

Ring, please ring

Don took 2 of our frames as samples back to the NC State labs.  It takes a while to culture the samples, so I’m stuck waiting until next week to get feedback.  Depending on the diagnosis (if there is a clear one), there are a few treatment options: replacing the current queen, treating with antibiotics, and/or replacing equipment.  It’s hard to know what to wish for.

In the meantime, I am wrestling with a tough call.  To treat with antibiotics, or not?  These bees are not currently honey producers.  Some of those girls are in the mountains and some are at Ninja Cow Farm.  New colonies (like these sick ones) generally need a year to build up before they can put up enough honey to be a production hive.  So it’s not an issue of antibiotics in the honey.  Any treatment will be long gone before these girls are producing, if they survive.  (Honey is not regulated, and some beekeepers do treat hives and sell the concurrent honey.  Yuck.)  This is a bigger philosophical issue of raising healthy, sustainable colonies.

We will post an update once we hear back and make a decision about treatment and the future for these girls.  For now, I do believe my luck just crapped out.

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Wake County Pollinator Festival Saturday!

Saturday June 18 is the Wake County Pollinator Festival at Lake Crabtree Park in DSC_0690Morrisville.  The event is from 10am-2pm and is free to attend and includes games, crafts & prizes.  But bring your wallet, food trucks and vendors will be selling goodies on site.  We will be out with our observation hive, educational info & activities to celebrate the kick off of National Pollinator Week.  Learn about all types of pollinators in our area – some are mammals!  Plus learn about what you can do at home to help these hard workers beautify your own yard.

Stop by our booth to say hi to the bees.  Spot the queen in the hive and get a free honey stick!  (It’s not as easy as you think!).  We will have honey and hive products available for sale, including our new Honeysuckler lollipops and Honey-Almond Granola.  You can pretend to be a bee and help gather pollen and pick up a handout on pollinator-friendly plants for your garden.  It’s going to be a beautiful day.  Come out to join us!

 

Road Trip

Summer is travel season, right?  So Monday we hit the road for the mountains.  Just me, Spaghetti, and a quarter million of our closest friends.  We moved some of our strongest bee hives up to where this whole Buck Naked adventure started.  Summer in the High Country!

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Spaghetti surveys the scene

Why move the hives?  Nutrition.  People are surprised to learn that in our area the main

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Sourwood tree in bloom

nectar flow only lasts from late March-early June.  But there are flowers blooming all summer!  Yes, but the heat shuts down major  nectar production.  Nice window dressing but no chow.  Moving hives to our mountains provides bees with a second nectar flow that diversifies their diet, and ours.  The coveted sourwood honey comes from this area of NC.  It is highly prized for flavor and commands a premium price.  Unfortunately much more sourwood honey is sold in NC than there are trees to support it.  Unethical beekeepers = mislabeled honey.  As described on our honey page, we label ours “Wildflower”.

 

“How exactly do you move bees?” people ask me.  It starts with closing off the hive at

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Chillin on the porch

night after the foragers have returned from their collecting business of the day.  This is easier said than done in summer.  When a busy hive is packed with bodies in summer, they create a lot of heat.  The brood nest is kept around 95 degrees but when it is already 90+ outside and you have 30,000 family members coming home from work, it gets hot.  Where to go in the south?  On the porch of course…   A bit of smoke slowly convinces everyone to move back in.

 

We then screen the entrances off with wire mesh to help with ventilation.  This involves a staple gun making loud noises and vibrations.  Bees don’t like this.  Anyone who can sneak out will.  And will presently remind you how much they dislike you.  Paul got reminded about 7 times.  Spaghetti got it at least twice.  I was suited up and wearing long pants, which looked silly at 9pm but rather wise to the swollen by 9:30.  Finally we ratchet strap each stack of hive boxes together and move them to the vehicle.  This process involves heavy lifting and much swearing.

Now, you may think this job is in the bag, but not so fast!  Some of those rogue porch-dwellers didn’t go back inside like you thought!  Nope, they are playing it quiet hanging out under the hive on the screened bottom visiting with the jailed family members.  (We’ll come back to them).  To transport hives, commercial beekeepers use tractor trailers.   Small-timers load 5th wheel trailers or pick up trucks.  Crazy people use their car.  Accordingly,  we loaded the hives in the back of the Tahoe (windows open for air overnight.  Pity the vandal messing with this car.)  Then off to bed.

We left early in the morning to minimize heat and disturbance.  Things were going well for a while.  A stray bee on a window here or there but nothing bad.  It was about Greensboro when the sun roused the foragers who were eager to get on the day’s business.  Plus we were stuck in stop & roll traffic.  Remember those clever girls under the hive?  Well, they woke up.  “Hey!  We can’t get in the house and we’re stuck in some sort of box with windows!!”  The sane among you ask “why not just open the windows and let them go?”  (Review our transport strategy above for answer).  So Spaghetti and I dodged 50+ hyper-confused bees for the rest of the journey.  Intense.  Uber intense.  Spaghetti decided at one point to let a few out the window by opening it a crack, but was rewarded with a 70mph shot of bees back into his face.  In the end, we made it without a single sting.

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Spaghetti adding frames for honey storage

An amazing fact about bees is that they quickly adapt to their surroundings.  Within minutes, lines bees were streaming from the hives and memorizing their new turf.  With a mountain of sourwood trees poised to bloom and a lovely waterfall nearby, they should be quite happy.  Go find the honey girls!!  But the season there is short too.  We’ll reverse this process and bring them home mid-July.  Maybe with a truck this time.

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Settling in to the mountains

Reward Season

Summer’s fruit is a reward.  A reward for surviving winter, for not eating those hard off-season store-bought berries, and for sweating through NC’s humidity.  That reward doesn’t come in dribs and drabs.   When nature rewards it comes big time.  All at once.  Feeding by firehose!  Tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, berries… farmer’s market overload.  But produce aplenty is timely now that bathing suits are here.  Produce is indeed the comfort food of summer.

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To simplify the choices, we introduce a solution to the decision-maker’s dilemma of which summer fruit to eat first – our new Triple Crown Jam.  It’s the best 3 berries of summer: raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry, all coexisting beautifully in a jammy kumbya way.  Put it on anything – waffles, ice cream, pork, yogurt and even toast.  It is classic PB&J gone wild.  Plus it’s simple in that Buck Naked kind of way; just 2 ingredients: fruit & sugar.  (Ok, the label has 4 ingredients, but it’s 3 kinds of berries plus sugar.  Don’t get technical.)

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The red, black & blueness made the boys want to name it something with Americana flair.  Uncle Sam Jam!  I almost went with the name until we realized the notion of a Buck Naked Uncle Sam went beyond unsavory.  So Triple Crown it is.

Claim your summer reward in a jar.  It’ll even sit patiently on the shelf for a while, ’til you open it.  Then it’s gone before you know it, like summer.  Better just eat it now.  The firehose is full.

Hide & Seek

This weekend I noticed a stray Welsummer hen off on her own amongst some tall grass, just sort of poking around.  I watched her for a moment and realized why we’ve been short a few speckled eggs lately… she’s playing hide & seek.  We gave her wide berth to avoid disturbing her (I really wanted to find out where she’s been hiding out) and stumbled across this..IMG_0144

Not much bigger than a dog.  Cute beyond words.  Kept moving and noticed calf #3 for the season laying in the pasture.

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Babe #3 with a friend

Extra cute.  Finally discovered what I was after.  Sneaky girl!  She’s been working on this nest for a while.  She selected a lovely spot under a small hickory tree in knee-deep grass.  Save her ba-gokking, I would never have found it.IMG_0143

gamblerPaul & I debated for a few minutes and finally decided to leave the nest.  We’re gamblers remember?  Ms. Welsummer has decided she’d like to be a mom.  Some breeds of chickens go broody (mommy-mode) more often than others.  Welsummers are somewhere in the middle.  Many of the primo egg layers have had this trait bred out of them to keep those eggs crankin.  Because a broody hen = no eggs.

Having personally acted as broody hen to 38 chicks & fowl in the last few months, I was

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Welsummer acting nonchalant

delighted at the idea of someone else doing the feeding and tending.  So the nest stays.  We even decided to help her out.   A broody hen generally lays 10-12 eggs in a clutch before settling down to the work of incubation, which takes about 21 days.  There were 6 eggs in the nest when we found it.  We added 6 (including a few of the blues) to round out the clutch.  Once a broody hen sees a full clutch, she’ll get down to the business of setting on them.  No worries about her accepting eggs, hens don’t count well and don’t seem to care what color eggs they sit on (sometimes they persist sitting on a nest with invisible eggs).

We’ll see if she has the commitment to see the process through – some give up easily.  We

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Nest cam

decided it was a worthy experiment to see if somehen could hatch out some of Taco’s first progeny.   Paul installed a nest cam to keep tabs on activity.  So we should have good coverage of any developments.  However, if she proves committed, we will move her with her nest to avoid predators.  If all goes well, we might just have the first farm-raised Buck Naked baby chicks by July.  Good luck mama!