Friday, November 25, 2016

All I want for Christmas is...

Hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving! But now that it's over, it's time to think about Christmas, and I'm putting in my wish list early.  So what would I like?

Keeping Bees in Horizontal Hives by George de Layens

Dr. Sharashkin, editor/translator of Lazutin's Keeping Bees with a Smile, has finished translating George de Layens work, Keeping Bees in Horizontal Hives. de Layens was the inspiration and source for much of Lazutin's approach to beekeeping.

According to the HorizontalHive's website, this book covers:

  • Time-tested methods boasting over 100 years of successful use
  • Horizontal hives: advantages and use
  • An honest overview of all hive systems
  • Keys to success, based on decades of experience
  • Extra-deep frames: advantages, design, and use
  • Detailed practical advice with 200+ illustrations 

Although this translation will not be released until January 2017, it can be pre-ordered for $29.95, which is a $20 discount off the post-publication price.

Advanced Top Bar Beekeeping by Christy Hemenway

Christy has a new book that is written for beekeepers who have survived their first winter.

The description on her website reads:
"The sequel to the original "The Thinking Beekeeper" book - this volume will take you into Year 2 and beyond. Splits, Swarm prevention, moving hives - all the things you're ready to learn in Year 2."
This book is priced at $29.00 and is expected to ship around Dec 22.

So that's it for me. My gotta-have list this year is pretty modest. However, if you're shopping for your favorite beekeeper, there is no end of things you can give to support his/her habit -- books, a Flir, new jackets or gloves, kits for making lip balms, lotions, mead, candles...

If you're a beekeeper, what would you like to see in your stocking this year? 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Winter is coming

Unfortunately, I have no new photos today since I accidentally dropped my phone in the dog's water dish. Poopie.

Anyway, work and other things have eaten up my time, so I decided it was time to close the hives up so I could stop worrying about them. Besides, winter, as evidenced by our first snowfall on Monday, is coming.

Different people have different strategies for wintering. For me, I pull any empty combs out of the hive. If needed, I add some sugar behind the last comb. Then I fill the back of the hive with straw. Mouse guards get slapped on, and insulation gets added above the bars along the sides of the hive. I strap everything together, and I'm done. (BTW, I love the insulated hives so much more every year. After removing any empty comb, I pop the mouse guards on and fill behind the divider board with straw. Boom. I'm done. It takes 5 minutes or less. No straps required because the roof & hive are so heavy. In the winter, that makes it really easy to feed if I have to.)

One of my major concerns for most of the hives this year is that they're underweight. I like to see at least 15 bars of capped comb. The hives were barely at 15, and most of the nucs were around 10-12 bars. However, even though the weather has been warm enough, it looks like most of the colonies had stopped taking syrup.

Even more problematic is that two of the hives (Hippolyte & Celestia) looked as though rain had seeped in -- they were flooded with about 1.5" of water. Celestia is my own fault since I never got around to building her a proper roof. Hippolyte, on the other hand, is a mystery. I couldn't find any cracks, and didn't have time to take the roof apart. Besides, I'd like to convert her roof to a hinged one in the spring, so it doesn't make sense to work on it now. As a stopgap, I wrapped the bars in tar paper before putting the roof back on. Will get some waterproof plastic or a tarp to make sure they don't leak during the winter. There were plenty of dead bees in both hives as a result of the water, but I don't know how the clusters are faring overall since it didn't seem like a good idea to break their winter seal. If anything, that would only stress them out more for no reason other than satisfying my curiosity.

One of my disappointments this fall was trying to bring Elsa up to weight. I'd given her several large jars of honey, but she barely ate any of it. The honey sat in the hive virtually untouched for weeks. I couldn't figure out why -- maybe because it was crystallized, maybe they just figured it was already stored in some oddly shaped cells. Who knows what goes through their little bee brains? Finally, I mixed the honey with some water to dissolve it, and the bees guzzled it up. Wish I'd thought to do that a couple months ago.

In the process of winterizing, I discovered that Hippolyte has been under attack. Wasps or hornets would be my guess. Decapitated bees littered the bottom of the hive and the tops of the bars. Again, this is my fault. I'd opened a top entrance during the summer to keep the hive cool, but I neglected to close it when the weather started to turn. The opening is just too big to patrol in the fall. Mice are another possibility, but I didn't see any evidence of a mouse nest or mouse poo inside -- of course, I stayed toward the back of the hive, not wanting to disturb the cluster, so maybe a more thorough check is needed. If there are mice, the entrance is closed up now, so they're not getting out until spring.

In the past, I've tried feeding over winter in various ways:

  • Fondant, which got soft and melted into a puddle in the bottom of the hive
  • Sugar piled on paper or cardboard in the bottom of the hive, which became messy and sticky as the sugar absorbed moisture in the hives and melted
  • Sugar bricks hung between bars in mesh bags, but lots of bees climbed through the holes and couldn't get out
  • Empty combs filled with sugar. That worked out amazingly well actually. The combs held the sugar beautifully in a place where the bees could reach them. The sugar also absorbed moisture in the hive. The downside was that I had to refill the combs periodically, and I didn't like having the hives open in the dead of winter. 

This year, I'm experimenting with something new. I picked up some disposable aluminum baking pans at the grocery store. I don't remember the exact dimensions, but in terms of width and height, they fit very well standing up in my hives. (Just a little bit of space around the edges.) The containers are deep enough to hold about 6 lbs of sugar in the form of sugar bricks.* Also, because the sides of the pans are sloped (so that it's trapezoidal), when I stand them up on end, they tilt backward a little bit, sort of like a cell in a honey comb. Since white sugar is hygroscopic, my fingers are crossed that it will absorb moisture in the hive. However, as the sugar bricks Hopefully, if the sugar bricks start to soften up, that bit of slope will keep them in the container rather than falling out into the bottom of the hive. (Dang, I really wish my phone hadn't fallen into a bowl of water because I had photos.)

Crude illustration of how the tilted pan will hopefully keep sugar inside
Also, added a cover to the bottom fourth of the pan to help keep sugar inside.

So here is the quick and dirty on each colony. Blue = Hopeful they'll pull through. Orange = I think they have a 50/50 chance. Red = Not holding my breath.

  • Elsa -- Has at least 15 bars, but only about 1/2 full. Will need to keep an eye on her over winter to make sure she doesn't starve.
  • Austeja -- Donated 2 bars from this hive to Peach. Currently has 15/16 bars. Looks good
  • Hippolyte -- Decapitated, drowned bees. Had stopped taking syrup. Fed her, but not feeling good about this situation.
  • Persephone -- I rated this one orange only because I couldn't check her. Crikey, she's a mean one. Stuffed her with straw, but she was attacking me so viciously I forgot to give her a sugar brick or even check on her stores. She's so contrary, I expect her to survive, but if she doesn't make it through winter, that's fine with me. I can't figure her out. She was perfectly nice before I transferred her to this hive. Maybe residual pheromones from the previous colony have made her so bitter.
  • Peach -- Received 2 bars from Austeja, but I don't think she ever really recovered from the robbing this fall. Added a sugar brick, but I don't think she's going to pull through.
  • Buttercup -- 12 bars fully capped. Looking good. Added some sugar for insurance.
  • Bubblegum -- Bees very busy in the back of the hive even on a 35-ish degree day. Popped in a sugar brick, but they look good.
  • Celestia -- Makeshift cover had shifted, and there were lots of drowned bees. Not hopeful, but I mopped up the water and added a sugar brick. Fingers crossed because I really liked this colony.

Looking at this color-coding, I'd be happy if just half of the colonies survive winter. I'd like to do some work on the hive bodies next year, and it would be nice to do that while they're empty. Plus, it would give me space to split. But who knows. Maybe the winter will be mild, and the bees will surprise me. Last fall, there were 3 colonies that I felt sort of iffy about, but 2 of them still survived. For such small creatures, they're much hardier than they appear.


*Sugar bricks -- Basically, 6 lbs sugar mixed with 1 to 1.25 cups of water/bee tea -- just enough liquid to hold the sugar together. Sugar is packed into a mold and allowed to harden up overnight.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A honey bee stinger

Started winterizing the hives last week, and I got stung twice for my troubles (well, thrice, but I'm not counting the stab I received from a yellow jacket.) One of the stings pierced my right temple near the eye. By the next morning, the entire right side of my face was swollen. The morning after, the swelling had started to spread to my left eye, too. Although I don't mind looking freakish so much, the accompanying headache and fatigue, which I still have 3 days later, are beginning to get tiring (no pun intended).

So what makes a honey bee sting so effective? I love this simple animated graphic that demonstrates what happens.

One thing this image doesn't show, though, is how quickly venom is pumped. Bee Culture ran an article back in June that recommends getting the stinger out as quickly as possible by any means necessary. According to the article's author, "Studies have shown that leaving the stinger in just eight seconds can increase the size of a bee welt by 30%. It doesn’t really matter how you remove the sting; just flick it off as fast as possible."

That there is some good advice.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why honey bees make better voters

If you live on planet Earth, you may know that the United States has elected a new President.  However, I promise not to go into the outcome of the election. I won't rant about the ridiculously antiquated and flawed process that our country uses to select its leaders. Shoot, I'll even refrain from saying anything about the media and its lack of focus on more reasonable candidates during the primaries, which is why this country was left scraping the bottom of the political barrel yesterday.

On the other hand, I'd like to share a post I read on FaceBook this morning. A friend of mine wrote, "I knew I should've let my bees vote."

From an administrative point of view, registering all those bees and checking IDs would be something of a nightmare. However, my friend is right. Honey bees make better voters. In fact, this is a process they engage in when they swarm, and the democratic process they use when looking for a new home is something we could all learn from.

Here are a few reasons why honey bees are smarter than people (at least citizens of the USA).

  • Have a single overriding goal -- survival of their colony. That's it. Everyone agrees that is the most important thing, and personal egos just don't get in the way.
  • Put up the most qualified candidates -- Bees don't send babies and inexperienced house bees out to look for options. They send the oldest, worldliest bees with the most experience to scout out potential new homes. 
  • Provide lots of options for consideration -- Lots of scouts are deployed, and they come back with numerous options -- not just one or two.
  • Do their research. Instead of relying on their friends' FaceBook posts, Twitter, memes, etc., honey bees actually go out and examine potential homes that the scouts have presented. There's nothing like first-hand knowledge.
  • Know when to stop pushing bad ideas. Unlike our media that pushes stories for ratings instead of the good of the country, honey bees present ideas to the colony and then drop them. They know that if it's a good idea, other bees will take it up. If not, the idea dies.
  • Are flexible in their thinking. Bees may promote a particular option at first, but if a better option comes along, they'll easily adopt it.
  • Recognize the need for consensus. Bees don't look for 100% agreement, but they understand that they need a certain amount of agreement in the colony in order to make things work.
  • Work in unison once a quorum is reached. Once a majority of bees has picked a place, all disagreements are dropped. Not sure how those in the minority feel about that, but they keep on keeping on, working for the betterment of the colony as a whole.
Anyway, these thoughts are taken from Tom Seeley's phenomenal book Honeybee Democracy. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. It's a beautiful insight into the workings of bees.

Meanwhile, one good thing about this election is the abundance of Coroplast signs. I may ask around to see if anyone is willing to donate some to me. Since the girls can't read, I assume party affiliation won't matter to them. Recycling these political ads into hive roofs seems an appropriate way to turn something filled with so much bitterness this year into something sweet.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

New Favorite Smoker Fuel

This year, I used the smoker quite a lot since 1) Hippolyte was pretty mean until she'd been requeened a few times and 2) the general lack of nectar made all the bees crabby during the summer & fall.

For a couple years, I had stopped using the smoker because it always burned my eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Plus, it left me smelling like a forest fire. However, a spray bottle of scented water wasn't cutting it this year, so back to the smoker.

Forest pony poo is supposed to make a nice fuel, but being fresh out of forest ponies, I've had to make do with what was at hand. Pine needles, wood shavings, straw, cotton quilt batting, natural fiber twine -- these are some of the things I've tried burning -- all with the same stinky, stinging result.

A couple months ago, I tried dried lawn clippings, which was actually a pretty decent fuel. It burned easily, made a nice cool smoke, and lasted about as long as pine needles if well-packed. Plus, the smell was tolerable. The downside was that it took a lot of dried grass to really pack the smoker properly, and if there was any moist grass in the mix, it didn't work very well. But it wasn't bad, so I continued to use grass for a while until I found something nicer -- dried sage. 

While meandering through the local hippie market, I found some bundles of tightly rolled safe for burning. Lightbulb! My sage plant got an immediate heavy pruning, and the clippings were hung up in the basement to dry.

Gru is great

Sage burns much better than grass, makes a copious amount of cool smoke, and smells good (for smoke). While I still try to stay upwind of the smoke, I've found that it isn't nearly as acrid as other fuels I've tried. Another benefit is that the bees seem pretty relaxed with the sage. Some fuels cause the bees to start fanning a lot. Others seem to make them agitated and runny. Persephone, my most defensive hive, is unusually chill when I use sage.

My last bundle of dried sage this year. :-(

I currently have only one plant, which isn't anywhere near enough for my smoking needs, but the bees love sage flowers, too, so that's an added bonus. Next year, I envision planting a whole hedge of it somewhere.

What's your favorite smoker fuel?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Well, Shoot

So not ready

What is this white stuff falling from the sky? Sigh.

At least, temps are supposed to be back up in the 60's next week.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How Much Honey Should I Leave for Winter?

In the fall, every new beek wants to know how much honey they should have in their hives. The answer isn't as cut-and-dried as most people would like since it's a regional thing. The amount of honey a colony needs in New England is probably very different from the amount needed in Florida. I have sneaking feeling that it may also vary depending on what kind of hive you're running. For example, local commercial beeks tell me that they leave anywhere from 75-100 lbs of honey on for winter, but I've never seen my bees consume more than 40 lbs max.

Anyway, most of the info I've read says that an average-strength colony will consume about 30 lbs of honey during the winter. However, I don't know if that fact takes into account regional differences, so Phil Chandler's advice seems more helpful to me. He says to allow 2 lbs of honey per week of non-foraging weather for a strong colony. BTW, I have no idea how to define "average" or "strong" colony," but more on that toward the end of this post. 

OK, let's go back to the problem of calculating how much honey to leave. Say that your non-foraging weather stretches from mid-October to mid-March like mine. 
5 months x 4 weeks = 20 weeks 
20 weeks x 2 lbs = a minimum of 40 lbs

If you hadn't noticed, I really emphasized the word "minimum" because you should always have some reserves in case things go pear-shaped. What if winter starts earlier than expected? What if a late frost kills the spring blooms? The bees should have some backup stores for emergencies.

Additionally, Lazutin maintains that a colony will build up better in spring if it has at least 20 lbs of reserves. To quote:
"An average-strength colony that is left to its own devices will consume up to 30 pounds (15 kg) and more of honey during the winter...practicing beekeepers have seen that if a colony is left with "just enough" honey in the fall -- just enough, that is, to last until the first honeyflow next spring -- then when spring does arrive the colony will struggle to grow and will be unlikely to build up sufficient strength in time for the main honeyflow. In the spring, the queen will only lay eggs effectively if the hive contains reserves of at least 20 pounds (10 kg) of honey and the bees are certain that the "kids" won't lack for warmth or food. That's why conscientious beekeepers are in the habit of leaving at least 50 lbs (25 kg) of honey in the hive in the fall, and those who are especially caring keep another 20 pounds (10 kg) for each colony around as an emergency reserve to be used for supplemental feeding if necessary.
As I mentioned earlier, one of my issues has been trying to define what an "average-strength" and "strong" colony looks like. In his book Beekeeping with a Smile, Lazutin provides the following descriptions for evaluating hive strength. Bear in mind, that one of his extra-deep frames equals 2 deep Lang frames:
  • Strong colony: Winter cluster occupies 8-11 extra-deep frames, 5-6 lbs (2.5-3 kg) of bees
  • Average colony: Winter cluster occupies 6-7 extra-deep frames (He doesn't provide weight for this, but it should be an average of strong/weak.)
  • Weak colony: Winter cluster occupies 4-5 extra-deep frames, 2-3 lbs (1-1.2 kg) of bees
If I were to try and compare this to a TBH, this description just wouldn't work for me. By his definition, a winter cluster in a strong colony would have to occupy about 20 bars in my hive. Ummm...yeah, no. If they'd ever gotten that big, they'd have swarmed. So I'm thinking that maybe there are different definitions for what a strong/average/weak colony looks like depending on the kind of hive that you have. This is why I also have that sneaking feeling that the kind of hive you run may also determine how much honey you need to overwinter.

For myself, I try to leave about 15 bars of stores. After weighing various combs, I know that one of my brood combs backfilled with honey weighs an average of 4 lbs. A full honeycomb weighs somewhere between 4.5-5.5 lbs.* Therefore, I can conservatively estimate that I've been leaving about 60 lbs of honey for winter, which puts me on track with Lazutin's recommendations. So far, my bees have never eaten anywhere close to that amount -- not even this past spring when we had such miserable weather, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

*If you weighed combs from your own hives, you might end up with different weights than me based on the dimensions of your hive.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Random Thoughts (Mostly Complaints) about Feeding

For the past few years, I've generally avoided feeding my bees. The exceptions to this policy were new colonies (if I didn't have any nectar/honey to give them) and bees that were starving. This year, though, has been rough. Really rough. None of the bees had stored honey by late September, and I wasn't alone in this predicament. A late frost that killed the early spring flowers and a hot, dry summer meant a pitiful flow for the bees this year. As a result, I've been mixing so much syrup lately that I'm starting to feel like Willy Wonka.

I truly hate messing with syrup, especially now that I have so many bees. It's not so bad mixing up syrup for 1 colony now and then, but 8 thirsty colonies drink a lot of syrup. Each one can easily suck down a gallon overnight, and I have a feeling they'd take more if they could get it.

Making up gallons and gallons of the sweet stuff is a pain because:

  • It's expensive. I go through at least 100 lbs of sugar every week (approximately $19 for a 50 lb bag at Costco). I don't even feed everyday. If I did, I'd need closer to 300-400 lbs. Of course, sugar is still cheaper than new bees, so I feed.
  • It's time-consuming. Mixing up syrup, bottling it, and feeding -- that's a huge time investment. Just opening the hives and swapping out feeders takes about 40 minutes.
  • It's inconvenient. As a working mom, I'm busy all day, but the real craziness starts when the kids get home -- there's so much to do -- homework, snacks, dinner activities, baths... However, because I like to feed inside the hives, I have wait until about an hour before sundown (or a rainy day) to feed in order to avoid setting off robbing. Unfortunately, that's also the same time of day that at least one of the little people in my house requires Mom's Chauffeur Services.
  • It's a pain. Literally. The bees are not particularly happy this time of year, and they're not shy about making their feelings known. They also act like crackheads when I lug all that syrup out to the beeyard, which again, is not always fun.
On the other hand, I've found a great tool to help out with feedings -- my DH's beer brewing pot. It holds 4 gallons, which is awesome because it cuts down the mess in my kitchen & time spent making syrup considerably. Before, I'd make 2 batches of syrup in 2 large pots (4 pots total). Now, I only need 1 pot (though I still make 2 batches.) I'd love to try his bottle filling siphon to fill up all my jugs with syrup, but I have a feeling that it might not clean up well, so if you've ever done that, please, let me know!

The gallon markers on the pot are very helpful for knowing how much water/sugar to add.
Another reason why I don't like feeding is that sugar really isn't that great for bees. Bees raised on/fed sugar syrup don't live as long as bees that get honey. I suppose this is sort of ironic when you think about it -- the autumn bees are the ones that need to live a good long time so that the colony can survive until spring, but they're the ones that get the syrup. Additionally, my understanding is that bees that are fed syrup are more susceptible to diseases. It's like living on Twinkies. You can do it, but you're going to have a lot of health issues.

Even though I follow a treatment-free beekeeping philosophy, I have a gray area when it comes to feeding. Although I don't use supplements or essential oils, I do use bee tea as the base for my syrup in order to add some extra nutrients. I also add a pinch of sea salt for the same reason. It's probably like adding nuts and cherries to your ice cream sundae -- The nuts and cherry are alright, but you're still eating a sundae.

Anyway, on a whim, this year, I started adding seaweeds like wakame and kombu to my bee tea. In Korea, seaweed soup is one of those essential foods for nursing moms because it's supposed to provide lots of nutrition and help increase milk production. Ok, I'm not planning to milk any bees, but the micronutrients can't hurt, so into the pot they go.


After making the first pot of syrup with some seaweed, I figured I should at least see if there was any research on bees and seaweed. Wouldn't you know it, but the company that makes ApiVar also sells a supplement called HiveAlive that contains seaweed?! (I supposed I would've known this years ago if I shopped for mite treatments.) Although I'm not intending to purchase HiveAlive, I did find out what I wanted to know -- a little bit of seaweed's not going to kill my bees and may even be beneficial. So I'll probably continue adding some seaweed to the bee tea from now on.  (BTW, if you want to try adding seaweed to your syrup, you can usually find it at Whole Foods or a health food store, but a tiny bag of the stuff is kind of pricey. Instead, if you have a good Asian grocery nearby, you can usually find huge bags of the stuff quite inexpensively.)

Until last week, the weather was staying steady in the 60s. We even had a few days in the upper 70's. This week, temperatures have plunged into the 50's, so the window of opportunity for bulking up the hives is quickly closing.

Chow time. Elsa had some nectar, but I want to bulk her up as well, so she gets crystallized honey.

P.S. I'm not shilling for HiveAlive. I've never tried it and don't even plan on trying it. However, if you're curious, the American Bee Journal Aug 2016 edition ran a short (though not particularly informative) blurb about it. You can also read about the study performed with HiveAlive in The Journal of Apiculture Research vol 54, 2015, Issue 5


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Treatment-Free Beekeeping in Wales

Someone shared this video on FaceBook, and I enjoyed it so much, I thought to pass it on. It's an interview with David Heaf, author of Natural Beekeeping with the Warre Hive (which is excellent), and Pete Haywood, a former government bee inspector.

Anyway, they discuss TF beekeeping in Wales and how local bee colony survival rates are back up to pre-varroa numbers despite widespread non-treatment in their area. (About 6:45 is where they show survey numbers.)

The clip has German subtitles and an opening in German, which you can skip past. The rest of the video is in English.

Behandlungsfreie Imkerei in Gwynedd, Wales / Treatment free beekeeping in Gwynedd, Wales from OUTSIDE THE BOX on Vimeo.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Buddy Bees

Feeding syrup is the pits, but it seems a necessary evil this year.  I got a late start on it (around Sept 25), but some commercial beeks in my area started feeding about the same time, so maybe that's ok.

I suppose I should backtrack a bit and explain the unusual title of this post. This morning, I was thinking of that scene from the movie Elf in which Buddy grabs a bottle of hooch from a coworker, thinking it's full of maple syrup and dumps it in his coffee, exclaiming, "I love syrup! Oh, I love it!" Some unprofessional behavior ensues. Well, I have Buddy bees. They love syrup, but it makes them lose all dignity.

When I have open fed in the past, it's led to widespread fighting at the feeders and casualties on all sides. (Plus, it seems more costly since I end up feeding every bee & wasp in a 3-mile radius.) Feeding inside the hive, though, generally seems to encourage robbing.

LOL! Labeling bottles of syrup in the fridge so that nobody pours it in their coffee.

When I made up the first batch of syrup last week, I noticed that Peach must have already been the victim of a theft since there were a bunch of ragged cells in the hive. It could also have been that she had simply uncapped the honey I'd given her previously, but my money is on robbing since waxy flakes were also present at the entrance and on top of some bars.

Ragged comb is a tell-tale sign of robbing

To reduce the amount of robbing that might occur, I fed the hives in the evening when the foragers were returning and the bees were beginning their bedtime routines. However, my good-intentions were insufficient. Within minutes of feeding Peach, more robbers descended en masse. Ugh. To shut that down, I closed up her entrances up for a couple of days, allowing only single bees to enter/exit through a tiny gap in the bars. (The weather has been cool, and there are plenty of tiny cracks between bars, so overheating wasn't a concern.)

Fortunately, we've had a number of cloudy/rainy days since then, and I've been trying to time feedings to coincide with those days since the bees are less inclined to go outdoors.

I should note that I haven't been feeding all of the hives:

  • Elsa had plenty of nectar the last time I checked, so I haven't fed her, though I should check again soon. Waiting for a warm day. 
  • I also haven't fed Persephone, who is kind of nasty.  So if she doesn't make it, I won't be too chuffed.
  • Hippolyte isn't interested in the syrup I've been giving her, so I've stopped feeding her.

Although feeding syrup is generally a pain, it does have its amusing moments. This past Friday, the hubby and I were at Costco when he asked, "How many pounds of sugar do you want?"

"100. I used 50 lbs in two days last week."

"Ok. That's a lot of cookies..."

During this exchange, a woman was passing by. Her head whipped around, eyes large with surprise, mouth agape in shock and delight. I didn't bother correcting her. The mystery was much more fun.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

They Broke Me

I hadn't planned on inspecting the bees until the end of September, but a local friend (roughly a 40 min drive west of me) reported on FaceBook that despite the fall flow, his bees had zero honey. Then responses started coming in from multiple parts of the state that nobody had honey. Even though the goldenrod is flowering, the lack of rain means no nectar.

Seeing pollen coming into the hives, I'd assumed nectar was also, but was it??? Concerned by my friend's comment, I popped the hives open just to see what was going on. None of the nucs, except for Celestia, had any honey to speak of. Of the full-sized hives:

  • Elsa is in good shape with about 12 bars of nectar and maybe 10-12 bars of bees. Not sure for certain since she has quite a few bars of pollen near the entrance. 
  • Austeja has about 4 bars of honey. 
  • Hippolyte has very little honey, maybe a bar or two. 
  • Persephone -- I have no clue what this hive is up to. Despite the fact that she had very little honey -- maybe 3 bars -- she was festooning on all the bars at the back of the hive (6 bars). It was a huge surprise to open the hive and pull out an enormous ball of bees building comb. At first, I thought maybe another colony had taken up residence near the back, but no queen. Then I remembered something I heard at a bee meeting last summer. One of the hypotheses for what causes fall swarms is that the environmental cues during autumn are very similar to spring -- similar temperatures and day lengths, and there is a heavy flow. Their building behavior did strike me as very "spring-like," so I wonder if that's what's going on in that one.
On the other hand, all of the hives seem to have lots of brood. My guess is that they're using incoming nectar to raise brood instead of storing it away.

Although I'd planned to wait until the fall flow was over to feed, they've broken me. Most likely, I won't feed Elsa, Celestia, Austeja, or Persephone. The first three in that bunch are storing honey, so I'll see how far they get. 

Persephone has very little honey, but since she seems to have her calendar backward, I don't want to inadvertently trigger a swarm by feeding this time of year. Also, she's a truly unpleasant ankle-biter. During inspections, I put a smoker by my feet because she goes after my legs and ankles non-stop otherwise. Today, was even worse. All the other hives were perfectly sweet and delightful. Even through a cloud of smoke, she attacked me on every surface imaginable.  What is it with that hive? It's some kind of monster-maker, a full moon for bees. Every colony I put in it becomes unbearable.

Although I tried to move quickly through the hives today (an average of maybe 10-15 mins/hive), it wasn't fast enough. Opening the hives set off a ridiculous amount of robbing within minutes. I wish I'd taken a camera today. It was quite impressive to see Elsa with all her bars closed, but covered in bees trying to get through the cracks. I couldn't help think of the quote:

“Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber." John 10:1

Except in this case, it's "whoever does not enter the hive by the entrance, but flies or crawls in some other way, is a thief and a robber, and the beekeeper is going to shut them down."

Will probably try to feed during the evening when the bees on their way home. This should let the bees suck down their syrup in peace without having to fight off a bunch of moochers. We'll see how this pans out. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Sweet Surprise

I'm not going to lie. Yesterday was brutal. A bunch of work in the morning was followed by an afternoon of shifting bricks. Then there were the car trips all over town for the kids' activities. By the end of the day, I was knackered. 

But then I checked the post, and instead of the usual junk mail, a wonderful surprise was waiting for me -- a package. What could it be???

Honey!!! From Buddha and the Bees

Don from Buddha and the Bees took pity on my sad state of affairs (i.e., my lack of honey this year) and generously shared some of his beautiful bounty with me! One jar was from his hive B&B1, and the other was a mix of honey from different hives. He also knows how jelly I am of his gorgeous honey combs, so he even mailed some cut comb to me. What a treasure! Thank you so much, Don!

Having absolutely no self-control, I had to try them right away. Exquisite! If you are looking to buy honey, Don is your guy. Each honey was more delicious than the next. My 6-year old tried some comb and said, "He must have really good flowers. When are our bees going to make honey like this?"

A little bedtime snack
Thanks again for the sweet surprise, Don. You made my day!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Last Inspection Until Fall Flow is Over (Maybe)

Apologies for the lack of bee photos. Ever since my kids discovered Pokemon Go, I never seem to have a charged battery.

During my last few checks, I've been skipping a few hives each time. So yesterday, I actually checked them all to make sure they were configured for fall. Although, I've been in the process of reconfiguration ever since late-July/early August, there were still a few hives that needed empty bars/partial combs moved to the back. I have enough comb that nobody needs to waste resources drawing some. Instead, I want all their resources going toward honey production.

Want to plant more garlic chives next year. They bloom in the fall & bees love them.
Autumn job starting to bloom

About 10 days ago, I spotted what I thought were a few capped supersedure cells in Elsa. What I discovered yesterday was 1) a big fat queen 2) the queen cells were still in the hive and capped. Sometimes, I find that bees make queens, but then they never emerge for some reason and they dry up in their cells. I don't know why, but if someone has the answer, I'd love to hear it.

Otherwise, the goldenrod and Japanese knotweed are in full bloom. Starting to see asters, too. While none of the hives has enough honey yet to weather our winter (excepting Elsa maybe who was left well provisioned before her sisters swarmed), the bees are beginning to store nectar and backfill.
Japanese knotweed

I don't know what kind of goldenrod this is, but it's on its way out.

Happily, this goldenrod is in full bloom.

By the way, that's the thing that stinks about beekeeping -- you sort of have to be a fortune teller. It's not really enough to look at how the bees are doing today; you have to predict what things will look like in a month, 2 months, 3 months down the road. In spring, you're planning for fall & winter. In winter, you're planning for spring. If I could have one superpower, I'd pick the ability to travel through space and time -- or mind control because that's pretty flipping fantastic too.

Rose of Sharon still blooming

Buddleia is another great plant to fill the July-August gap

I've been debating whether to feed or not. On the one hand, I don't have enough honey to feed, and I hate feeding syrup -- it's messy, it attracts robbers & pests, and it shortens the bees' lifespans, which is exactly what I don't want going into winter. On the other hand, it's been a poor year overall, and I worry they won't collect enough nectar to make it through winter. After a night of tossing and turning, I've settled on a course of reckless optimism and will wait to see how things shake out. The bees are storing nectar now, so maybe they'll surprise me. However, if they're still light at the end of our fall flow, October & November should still be warm enough to top them up or give them some sugar.
A pretty garden passed during this morning's walk

As a side note, I found 3 small hive beetles in Peach. They were all the way at the back of the hive in some dank old comb that the bees weren't patrolling. Fortunately, I did not see any SHB larvae. Since the comb was mostly empty anyway, it got yanked to eliminate their hiding place. In a week or so, I'll need to remember to donate some comb from another hive. I didn't do it yesterday because I was still considering supplementing with syrup and wanted the space for feeders.

Random bunny in my yard, but it's so gosh darn cute!
While fall honey does not appear to be part of my future, at least the bees look like they're starting to provision themselves for winter. I'm going to stop pestering them for the next month (except for moving some comb) so they can get to work. Carry on, ladies. Carry on.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Where's the Honey?

It's been 3 weeks since I checked the majority of my hives, so I figured a visit to the bee yard was in order. I skipped Peach & Buttercup since they got an inspection a couple of weeks ago, but everyone else received a fall checkup.

The good news is that everyone has a laying queen (at least the hives I inspected).

Good brood pattern in Austeja -- and this wasn't even the best comb of the day

The bad news is that there is very little honey. The goldenrod is blooming and beautiful, but with the exception of Celestia, there are no significant stores. I expect not to see honey in hives that have been recently queened (Peach, Buttercup), but not in hives that have been queenright and making bees prior to the start of our fall flow.

Some nice honey from Celestia

Some of the bars have warped quite a bit, and now there are thick ribbons of propolis.

This week, I had occasion to drive over to Bridgeport & Middlebury. Along the way, Japanese knotweed was looking pretty nice. Hopefully, it starts flowering here as well. However, folks all over the state are reporting an anemic fall flow and empty hives, so maybe feeding will become a necessity this year. Fortunately, I have some honey that I can use for that purpose.

The propolis is so thick it actually ripped the side off a couple bars when I pried them apart.
Yikes! That's some serious sticky!

Case Study: Swarm or Supersedure?

As an instructional designer, I love case studies. It's very easy to learn how to do things, but trying to do things in the real world where things never go according to plan? That's an entirely different story. The thing I like about case studies is that they use real (or realistic) events and force people to look at the big picture. Too often, I think people look at one or two details and freak out. If they took all factors and variables into consideration, they'd probably make better diagnoses.

One area that new beeks have trouble with is discerning between swarm cells and supersedure cells. If only the bees hung little signs or something on them that would make life so much easier! Since they don't, I thought I'd walk through a real-life scenario that I'm experiencing right now & explain my decision-making process.

One of the queen cells in Elsa. The others were at the bottom of the combs.

Elsa had four new queen cells today. Hmmm... What do I know, and what do these facts tell me? 

Let's start with the facts:

  • Elsa should have had a new queen start laying around Aug 15.
  • Aug 14, I didn't see any eggs during my inspection, so I gave her a bar of brood & eggs just in case her queen hadn't returned. 
  • Today, there was brood of all ages, including stick eggs.
  • The hive has plenty of combs, but not a lot of honey.
  • There were far fewer bees this week than 2 weeks ago.
  • Elsa was split July 20. She may have even swarmed around Aug 5.
  • There were 4 queen cells, which were located on 3 different bars -- 2 of them on the donated bar, 2 on other bars.
  • Not sure how old these queen cells are. They're not capped, so less than 8 days. They're more than cups & have fairly visible larvae, though. I'd put the larvae around 4-5 days from egg. Queens take 8 days from egg to capped cell, then 8 more days until emergence.
  • I did not see the queen.
Looking at the big picture, I'm betting this is a supersedure instead of a swarm. Here's why:
  • Swarming is a method of reproduction. Without a lot of honey or brood, these bees are not really set up to do that. The lack of bees could have been a swarm, but it's more likely due to attrition since they haven't had any replacement bees for awhile. 
  • When bees prepare to swarm, they make bunches of queen cells. Four just really isn't that many.
  • They were queenright within the past day based on the stick eggs. That doesn't mean that they couldn't still swarm in the next couple of days, or that they haven't swarmed since I last checked, but I doubt it.
  • If the bees had made a queen from the eggs I gave them on the 14th, I would not expect that queen to start laying until around Sept 6. The stick eggs in this hive tell me that they are queen right, and the queen emerged around Aug 5 -- she was made from that split on July 20.
  • The bees did not use the brood I gave them to make queen cells. They got those eggs/larvae 11 days ago. If they'd used an egg or young larva, the cell would have been capped already. Therefore, all the cells must have been started from eggs that the new queen laid. This tells me that they weren't feeling swarmy when I put the eggs in. Given that there are even fewer bees/resources now, I'm pretty positive they're not even remotely swarmy now.
  • Since they're queenright, I'm not going to worry about them making a queen, but I'll feed them since the brood she's laying probably won't be old enough in time to take advantage of the fall flow. 

So why are they superseding already? Looking at my notes, the current queen is an emergency queen, which frequently gets replaced. so that's not out of the ordinary. However, this is my 4th summer keeping bees, and I've never had the bees replace an emergency queen so quickly until this year. This year, has been an especially bad year for my queens, though. In addition to this being my second supersedure, I've lost quite a few queens on mating flights, which has also rarely happened to me before. Other people have told me that they've lost lots of queens this year, too, so I don't feel alone, but.... what the heck is happening? I guess that's the bigger picture that I'm wondering about.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Everyone's got babies

A couple months ago, my friend JB took a nuc from me. He invited me over this morning to see the bees. It was wonderful to see them doing so well.  Even though they're not mine anymore, I still think of them as my babies.

TBH made from the nuc I started. JB even made a split from them into the Lang.

Anyway, JB also generously gifted me with a zillion hostas. As I was digging them into the ground, a buzzing like the sound of a helicopter whizzed by my head. It turned out to be a cicada killer wasp. I love these bugs. Although they're quite large (about 2" - 2.5" long), cicadas are even bigger. Somehow, the wasps still manage to paralyze them and drag them home. I've even seen them flying dozens of feet up in the air latched onto their prey. Thank goodness they're not human-sized -- they'd be unstoppable.

Monday, August 15, 2016

2 out of 3

It's been so hot all summer that I considered ordering an evaporative cooling vest, but the weather has been so soupy that it probably wouldn't work. Instead, I've been trying to stay cool by limiting inspections to 4 hives tops. 45 minutes outside is about all I can take. Fortunately, at this time of year, we can get away with waiting longer between check-ups.

Yesterday, I took some quick peeks at Buttercup, Elsa, and Peach since those are the ones that were in the process of making new queens.

We have a queen and eggs! I even got to watch her lay one -- hooray!

This queen is a little smaller than I like, but she's dark, which I like a lot.

Did not see a queen or eggs. My notes say to check on 8/15 for eggs, so I was a day early. However, I'm not feeling optimistic since she was mad! It's natural for hives to be more defensive this time of year, but I've never smelled her angry like today. Just in case, I gave her a bar of brood from Bubblegum. If I see a queen cell next week, I'll have to give her a queen or combine since we're getting too close to winter.

I forgot to bring a pencil, so this photo is a reference just for me.
When I check next time, the bar marked "Flat" is the one I added.
Logic dictates that if I see queen cells, they would have to be on the bar I added,
but when I first open the hive, the photo helps me to remember just where I placed that bar.

The queen cell from last week is gone, and nothing has taken its place. There are eggs, too, so my guess is that she has successfully superseded. Excellent.

Do you see the queen near the bar?

With all but one hive queenright, next week's inspection will be a breeze -- well, maybe not in this humidity, but it will be short at the very least with only one colony to inspect.

On a completely unrelated note, we had a delightful Turkish couple over for mezedes the other day. Of course, they tried some of my honey from different seasons/times in the season. One of them caused the wife to exclaim, "This one tastes like Turkish honey!" They then proceeded to tell me that in Turkey, a pint jar like the one I had was extremely expensive -- about $200. I wasn't quite sure whether that was really $200 or 200 Turkish lira (roughly $70). Either way -- holy smokes! Of course, we had a good laugh when she volunteered to be my "mule."

To wrap up, goldenrod is still flowering, but there is a lot of new construction going on, and some of the fields that have a lot of goldenrod are being bulldozed. I want to move.

Meanwhile, I haven't seen any flowers on the Japanese knotweed. I could be wrong, but I usually think of knotweed blooming in late summer. Everything else has been 2 weeks early this year. Is the knotweed late or is it simply not going to bloom? It's been such a weird year that I don't know what to expect. These new queens could use the pollen and nectar, though, so fingers crossed for a good fall.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Two Queens

Two queens -- no, that's not a poker hand. It's how many queens I need.

Between splits and swarms and queens that haven't returned from mating flights, I've been on pins and needles most of the season waiting for eggs. (Btw, compared to seasons past, it seems that this has been a rather perilous year for queens. A lot of mine have gotten lost.) Finally, almost everyone is queenright -- once the last two are settled, I can rest easy.

The bees are nuts for the carrots that didn't get picked.
Another bee on a carrot flower. They even collect a bit of pollen from them.

I made a split from Elsa 2 weeks ago. The queen went to Bubblegum, and Elsa made a number of queen cells, which apparently emerged.  Today, there seemed to be considerably fewer bees in her, so she probably swarmed as well. Oh well. I'll check again in 10 days (Aug 15) for eggs.

This nuc has swarmed more times than I remember this summer, and she's lower on bees than I'd like to see. I had hoped for eggs today, but nope. Most likely she could get out because we got several days of glorious rain!!! The bees weren't "runny" the way they'd be if the hive were queenless, so I'll take that as a good omen. However, if she still hasn't any eggs in about 5 days, I'll have to decide whether to give her a mated queen or combine her.

She's made a supersedure cell, but I'm not going to sweat this one even though I've lost a lot of virgin queens this year. My past experience with supersedures is that the old queen sticks around until the new one begins laying. As a result, there is no brood break. Of course, if a new queen doesn't get mated, the old one could run out of viable eggs. But we've some time left before winter comes, so it's not a big concern yet.

On Monday, this colony was starting to make swarm cells, but I didn't want them to bail on me this late in the season. So I tried an experiment. I cut out all the queen cups and all but 3 or 4 swarm cells. Then I removed about 10 frames of honey/nectar (some of it got harvested, some was redistributed to other hives). I also added a lot of empty bars. Today, not a trace of any swarm cells was left. It appears the bees broke them down. Win!

Austeja, Persephone, Bubblegum and Celestia
All is well. Hooray!

Echinacea is a favorite this time of year
I used to wonder how bees found propolis until I saw this tree.
Apparently, it's not so hard. 

So now I have loads of honey again. Several people have offered to buy it, and still more have offered to be gifted. LOL

One thing I've noticed about crushing and straining is that it works pretty well if I'm doing only a few combs. Once I get more about 5 combs, though, there is a lot of honey that doesn't drain into my bucket. So I pulled out my cider press and pressed the crushed wax after it had already drained for about 5 days. Although I didn't measure the gleanings, I'd estimate at least 5-6 more cups of honey. Definitely worth dragging that heavy hunk of metal out of storage.

Most likely, I'll continue checking on Buttercup, Elsa, and Peach until I'm certain they're queenright, but I won't bother the others until the Japanese knotweed starts blooming. This break from the bees is perfect timing for enjoying the Olympics -- and some air conditioning.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Why I Want Less Honey

Most beekeepers want more and more honey because when it comes to honey, less is definitely not more. More is more. Or is it??? Before sharing some thoughts, though, I'd like to offer two caveats:

  1. All beekeeping is local and depends greatly on your own particular bees, weather, forage, and flow. All of these things greatly impact how your bees behave, so you have consider these factors. For example, are your bees swarmy? What is the timing of your flows? Do you get two big booms in spring and fall? Or do you get a steady trickle year-long? Do you have mild springs? Or do you get a lot of spring rain that keeps bees inside? The list of considerations goes on.
  2. What works for me may not work for you because of differing perspectives, goals, preferences, etc. For example, do you want splits or honey? Is beekeeping a hobby or business? How often are you able to check your hives? Is your approach more "conventional" or "crunchy"?

So bearing those things in mind. I'll share what I think works for me, but take it with a grain of salt depending on your own situation.

This year, I've come to the conclusion that although there are many Lang management techniques that can be applied to TBHs, some strategies don't work well for me. It all comes down to hive design and how that works in my area.

Crikey, that's a tall hive! You can see how expandable a Lang is, though.

People who keep Langs often have honey as a primary goal, and that's what the expandability of Langs is designed for -- super production. Many management techniques for this hive contribute to that goal. For example:

  • Reusing comb after harvesting helps increase the amount of honey bees can make because they don't have to consume nectar to build comb.
  • The ability to add boxes allows beekeepers to increase the hive volume, thereby manipulating bees into storing more honey. 
  • Building up the colony size in early spring and during summer dearth allows beekeepers to have large numbers of workers of foraging age when the main flows in spring and fall begin.
  • Never allowing the hive to swarm keeps colony population maxed out, which in turn keeps the amount of bees available for work high.
The Lang's design and associated management practices yield enormous harvests.

44" long. That's all the space I get.
Some people super TBHs, but I'm just not into that.
It negates the entire reason I picked a horizontal hive.

On the other hand, while a TBH beekeeper can expect some to harvest some of the sweet stuff, a TBH is simply not designed for maximum honey production. The KTBH design that most people use was originally a cheap way to make hives for people with minimal woodworking skills & resources. When the Peace Corp introduced it to beekeepers in Kenya, they were dealing with African bees that have a tendency to abscond frequently and a climate with short, explosive flows (as opposed to the long spring flow that I get). Essentially, there's no way these African bees would ever fill a Lang, so expandability just wasn't needed. I don't want to imply that a TBH is not a viable hive design for beeks outside of Africa; I am just saying that it's important to understand the hive in order to best manage it for your own situation. Where collecting honey is concerned, the real limitation of the TBH is its size & lack of expandability.

In my locale, TBHs generally don't have enough volume to contain all of the potential honey from a good spring flow. In fact, my problem is that there is so much nectar in spring that the bees fill the entire hive with comb and nectar, but they don't have time to cure it, which means I can't harvest it and make room in the hive. That leads to backfilling of the nest and eventual swarming. If I incorporate practices meant to boost honey production -- like giving them empty comb to fill and feeding prior to flows -- all I do is speed up their mad race to swarming. This is great if you want more bees. It's not so great it you're out of space for hives and just want honey.

After a lot of thinking about how the flow works in my area & how bees respond to it, I've recently come to the realization that when working with established TBH colonies (as opposed to new packages or splits), things go better for me (i..e., I get less swarming) if I can slow the bees' ability to collect honey. Slowing them down includes:

  • Letting them build new comb instead of providing empty comb -- Since they can't cure the honey quickly enough for me to harvest, I can't make more room. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to give them empty combs in order to increase the amount of honey stored. I might as well be ruthless in pulling old comb and let them build mostly new comb every year. In addition to slowing down the spring collection,  new wax has the advantage of increased hive hygiene.
  • Not feeding except in emergency situations -- Again, why bother having a huge build-up prior to the start of spring? They can't hold all the honey, and the population will explode on its own once nectar starts rolling in. Building up on nectar is better for them anyway. Of course, I would feed in an emergency, and I'd still feed a new split or package until they got rolling. I'm just thinking about established colonies now.
  • Letting the colony take a break over the summer -- During a good year, my fall flow can be almost as productive as the spring. To avoid late season swarming, which is hard to recover from as I learned last year, I let the bees take a break from building up during the summer dearth. The break also gives them a chance to clean out the hive. It's also the time of year when varroa populations start to climb, so giving them fewer places to lay may help knock them down a bit. (That's a naive theory of mine anyway.)

This spring/summer, Elsa provided me with an ideal experience, and I've been processing what made her great compared with my other hives. Basically, I've hit on the idea that less honey collection (relatively speaking) and more building of both comb and brood in spring is a desirable thing. In a perfect world, it would be nice to have the hive completely built out by the end of the spring flow and full of honey without casting any swarms. At that time, I could take some honey for me and make some splits. Will I get less honey than if I were using Langs? Sure, but I would never be able to expect that much because my hive isn't expandable. In any case, if I've managed spring well (a big "if"), I can still expect 30-50 lbs of spring honey from a hive, which is more than enough for me. (That number doesn't include honey that would be left for the colony or used for splits or a fall harvest. It might also vary for you depending on bar size, number of bars, and local conditions.)

This was pretty much from one hive during the fall flow last year.
It was more than enough for me and to give away, so how much do I really need? 

Deliberately encouraging the bees to make less honey seems counterintuitive, but I think it works. Swarming decreases the colony population and reduces overall productivity for awhile. Slowing the bees down actually results in more honey due to reduced swarming.

What do you think? Is this idea complete rubbish? What have you noticed in your established hives?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Catching up on Inspection Notes

It's been a while since I updated my inspection notes, but lots of things have been happening, so I wanted to make sure I captured them. That way, when I read through my posts next year (cringing all the while at typos and awkward sentences), I can reflect on what happened.

I forgot to write the date down, but sometime around July 12, I noticed that Buttercup had gone queenless. Probably her queen got lost on a mating flight, so I donated some eggs/young brood from Elsa. Last week (July 20), she had queen cells, including a couple of capped ones. Hopefully, I'll see eggs around Aug 5.

Checked Celestia last Friday, and she has eggs so I can breathe a sigh of relief on that front.

Austeja, Hippolyte, Persephone, Peach
Haven't checked these since the 12th, but they were all fine then. Since the dearth is on us & I'd like to avoid setting off an attack of robbing, I won't open the hives much until the fall flow begins. Maybe to take some honey...

This is Elsa's second year, and she hasn't swarmed yet, so I split her on July 20. I couldn't find her queen, so I just moved some eggs and brood over to my empty Bubblegum nuc. 3 days later, the nuc had eggs, and Elsa had queen cells. Well, I guess I know where she is now. Fingers crossed, I'll have a laying queen by August 14 -- or maybe I should just buy a queen.

I also took a couple of bars of honey that were about 75% capped out of Elsa. I was concerned that they might be a little too wet still, but my refractometer showed a water content of 16%. So whether the bars are all capped or not, it looks like they are harvestable.

(Actually, there was at least another jar,
but used a lot of honey making lemonade and popsicles)

Weather Update
Weather-wise, this has been a miserable spring & summer. According to the US Drought Monitor, we are in a severe drought and have been for some time. Daytime temps have been consistently in the mid- to upper-90's F since about May or June. Our normal average high for July is 85 F -- so we're 10 degrees above average.  Hearing lots of reports of wells running dry in my town.

I'm in Southern New England. You can see how dry that area is.

Additionally, everyone's lawn has died (except the weeds -- my clover and weeds look super green!) Personally, I have no use for grass, but I am mourning the toll on my garden. My DH's tomatoes are not setting as much fruit as they usually do. Hot spells (days consistently about 90ºF and nights consistently above 75ºF) cause tomatoes to focus on survival instead of reproduction. My cantaloupes, too, are producing male flowers only. Even my pumpkin & winter squash don't want to make fruit. Heat also fries the pollen -- not just tomato pollen, but pollen for lots of other plants as well. Flowering plants don't make as much nectar either without water.

The weather forecast shows a 50% chance of a couple rainy days this weekend, but I'm not feeling optimistic. Most of our rain predictions so far this year have either not panned out or we've gotten a quarter inch at most. Not nearly enough.

In the 16 years we've been married, my DH and I have moved 4 times -- each time further north and to somewhere with a higher cost of living. We have this joke that the next two moves will be to Canada and then the Arctic Circle. As this heat keeps up, Montreal is sounding pretty good to me!

In addition to the heat and lack of rain, garden pests have been the bane of my existence these past couple of months. My guess is that the unusually warm winter we had last year failed to kill them. Tomorrow, I'm planning to put down some milky spore and beneficial nematodes. Fingers crossed for some rain to help soak that stuff in. Anyone know a good rain dance?