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Archive for the ‘Homesteading’ Category

The Buzzzzz

So most of you already know that I recently took up the hobby of apiary this past year.  And with no prior experience and little teaching on the subject it has been quite an adventure with a rather steep learning curve to say the least. My hive swarmed, I was stung several times, and to top it off, I didn’t collect any honey.

This hobby of mine however, has turned into quite the obsession for me, recently perpetuated by the documentary, Vanishing of the Bees (watch it!).  I’m sure most of you have heard of Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD for short, that is, the unexplained vanishing bee populations that have occurred throughout the US for the past several years. But there might be a few things you didn’t know so I’m going to climb on up to my soapbox and preach a little:

– That other countries have experienced a similar phenomenon?

– That the likely culprit stems from systemic pesticides typically used on large-scale commercial moncultures and produced by the company Bayer CropScience?  (Systematic pesticides are contained in the plants tissue and therefore cannot be washed off or removed by peeling the skin off a fruit of vegetable.)

– That little research has been done on the effect systematic pesticides have on multi-generational bee populations and the the EPA accepts research on the subject from the very company that manufactures the chemicals?

– That to begin with pesticides originated from leftover chemicals used in chemical warfare of WWII and re-engineered for use on crops? (The very substances we used to wage war on other humans, was now being ingested through our food. Brilliant. You got to do something with it, right?)

– That one out of every three bites we take is dependent on the pollination of a honeybee. 1 IN 3!!!

I don’t know about you, but this is all very disturbing to me.  The good news is, is that everyone can help in their own way.  Here are some things you can do:

– Watch the movie, Vanishing of the Bees, and educate others by spreading the news.

– Create bee-friendly habitat in your own backyard by planting bee-friendly flowers and providing a source of water for bees.

– Take up apiary

– Minimize the use of pesticides around your home and seek out natural and organic alternatives for dealing with pests.

– Buy local honey. A lot of honey in the US is supplied by China and contains filler ingredients.

– Eat organic fruits and vegetables when possible. People often argue the host cost of organic foods or that they aren’t concerned about the affect of pesticides on their health (ah, a little bit won’t kill me!) but it is important to have a more holistic and global viewpoint. Cheaper, inorganic foods come at a high cost to the overall health of humans and the planet. When you spend your cash, you cast a vote. If you buy at least some organic produce, your purchases, along with those of others, will send a signal to retailers, which will ultimately send a signal to farmers.

– Write to your local representatives and politicians, urging them to help save our bees.

– Sign the PAN (Pesticide Action Network) petition to the EPA.

To help out and do my part, not only will I continue apiary, but I plan on adding some bee-friendly plants to my garden next year and I’ve also decided to donate a portion of the sales from my hand-dyed scarves to various efforts geared at saving the bees. After all, I have them to thank for many of the wonderful plants that I get beautiful colors from!

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Apiary Adventures

Mel Pulling

Wayne Pushing

Settled In

No honey for this beekeeper this year!  Many Alaskans simply harvest their honey by basically robbing the bees of their supplies, leaving the little ladies to eventually die with the onset of winter and no food.  Definitely not the path I wanted to pursue.  I decided to give it a shot at over-wintering and if successful, the bees will be a lot more productive next year compared to purchasing new ones.  I went into fall with two hives, the “old” one which is the original hive and the “new” one housing the group that swarmed.  The old hive had about 70 lbs of honey going into winter but the new one had very little so it’ll be quite a struggle for them in the coming months but I’m keeping optimistic.

The main steps for preparing for winter are explained in more detail below but include:

1) Feeding winter sugar syrup

2) Placing entrance reducers on the hive

3) Insulate the hive while ensuring adequate ventilation

4) Relocating to secure sight (out of wind!)

Once the weather started cooling I began feeding them winter sugar-water which differs from their spring feeding in that the ratio of sugar to water is a lot greater.  The more food they can store going into winter the better they will hopefully fare.  In the end they went through a total of about 35lbs of sugar or so!

The little ladies were quite sassy this fall during what is known as “robbing” season.  Their guards were up and ready to attack the various hornets, wasps, etc. trying to steal their food stores as well as me, trying to get a good look inside the hive to make sure things are functioning normally.  I had a few stings this fall, one lunged into my hair (though I somehow managed to escape sting free from that incident), and Wayne experienced his first sting ever.  He was quite whiny about it but recovered just fine.  I usually get very swollen and itchy but luckily, given my previous stings of the season quickly learned several coping strategies and walked away with only a slightly red mark.  (Thank heavens for the local herbalist and her osha root tincture!)

The hives also received entrance reducers which did just that, reduce the size of the entrance to only big enough to allow a bee or two to go in and out.  This helps with robbers trying to find their way in as well as helping regulate air flow as the temperature drops.  As you can imagine, the winters are mighty cold and long here so while it is important to insulate to keep the hive warm it is also very important to ensure air flow is happening in the hive and condensation isn’t forming on the top lid, thereby dripping down onto the “cluster” and making them freeze.  (Cluster refers to just what the bees do in winter, form a tight cluster in the center of the hive and vibrate their flight muscles to generate heat and keep warm.  They can regulate the temperature somewhere around 100 degrees.)

So, in order to insulate the hive, I simply placed  some rigid insulation (blue-board) on only the top of the hives and wrap the sides in tar paper with the idea that they would help minimize air flow (wind) though the sides and also act as a thermal mass when and if the winter sun comes out.  I also made sure to create a vent in the top back of the hive for moisture to escape and prevent condensation.

The next step was to relocate the hives from the field next to the house to ensure protection from our infamous 55mph wind gusts.  This basically required  a few straps, taping up the hive’s entrances, loading on a sled and schlepping across the lawn.  Definitely a two person job!  Once in place near the house, where they will be protected from the wind and hopefully get a little warmth from the house, I put a slight tilt to the hives, angling the front down a bit in the case condensation occurs it will run down the inside front of the hive and out the door.

So the little ladies are all tucked in and if the weather does ever get into the high 30’s they will venture out for some fresh air and a restroom break.  I’m crossing my fingers the winter isn’t too long and too cold! And next year I look forward to harvesting some honey!

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