Category Archives: bees

Loss

It’s been a rough week for our little backyard farm.

On Christmas Eve, Jess discovered that one of our hives had died. We decided to look for a bright side. There is a ton of honey left to harvest. This will make it easier to move the hive to a different spot as planned. We still have one surviving hive, and we can get more bees in the spring. We’re not sure what happened, although Jess’ theory is that on the day I was stung by several bees she may have somehow killed the queen in her haste to get the thing closed up.

Yesterday, just as our Christmas cheer was winding down, Levi said he heard a chicken noise in the yard and went to investigate. I made him stop and put on his boots because I didn’t want him running outside in his new slippers. The chickens make crazy noises all the time, it wasn’t dusk yet, and a few of the chickens were visible from the door. I will probably always feel guilty for making him change his shoes, even though it is very unlikely he could have saved our precious Hatchet-Face.

Levi returned from the yard a few minutes later, visibly shaken, announcing that Hatchet-Face was dead. I was completely stunned. I ran outside and stood over the huge mess of feathers, just staring at her for several minutes. I couldn’t believe she was gone, even though most of her body was right in front of me. Only the neck was missing and her head was unrecognizable. We’re pretty certain a raccoon was the culprit. What a terrible waste. I am trying to tell myself that it was probably over very quickly.

We were so fond of that goofy bird. We know that keeping chickens means dealing with loss and often short little lives. I just feel so cheated, though. She was our little heroine; the runt who outgrew her flock mates in the end. Despite her rough start in life she was delivering us a beautiful blue egg almost every single day. I have never seen another pure white Easter Egger with dinosaur green legs like her before. It never failed to cheer me up to look outside and see the way Hatchy ran across the yard with such gusto, or the funny exaggerated head-bobbing as she walked. We would be heartbroken to lose any of these ladies, but this just seems so wrong. We were talking about it today, and both realized that in the end it makes sense that she was the one to get picked off because she was a loner (a rebel), often off exploring by herself.

Rest in peace, Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malnorowski. We already miss you.

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Hive Inspection Gone Awry

Saturday’s hive inspection started innocently, as most of them do. The bees seemed busy, so I decided to open up the hives and make sure everyone’s ready for winter. The day was a little cool and gray, but not rainy or cold: good enough for a hive check in October.

The lady bees were busy bringing in bright pollen and many of them seemed to be bringing in heavy nectar loads, too. They fly a little bit drunk when they’re weighed down.


My guess is that this is goldenrod pollen.

I jiggered a 10-frame box to “fit” my 8-frame hive, which meant my bees built all kinds of burr comb that I had the displeasure of removing when I took off the box. (burr comb is comb that is inconvenient for the beekeeper – and it is usually the beekeeper’s fault).

I left the mashed up comb in an empty box nearby for the bees to lick clean. It would be more ideal to avoid burr comb entirely but, well, this is all a work in progress.

And then things took a turn for the worse. I cracked a box open and a cloud of bees flew out, directly into the unfortunate face of the resident photographer / my beloved wife, Krista. One bee stung her, and the isoamyl acetate started flowing. This chemical smells strangely like banana candy, and it calls all of the bees in the vicinity to join the attack. I’ve been in a cloud of isoamyl acetate myself, and it is a fairly horrifying experience to be the target of a lot of angry bees. It was Krista’s first experience with the banana smell, though. Her total number of stings since we installed the hives went from zero to seven in a matter of 60 seconds. I actually killed bees on purpose in my gallant efforts to rescue her. It was a first for both of us – Krista’s multiple stings, and my deliberate murder of bees.

I closed up the hive quickly, probably killing more bees in my haste, and went inside to check on Krista. It turns out that she inadvertently made a video of the bee attack. The video is a lot like a horror movie with all of the “Get them off of me!”s and slapping noises as I smacked the bees. As tempting as it is to upload it, we deemed it just too horrible. Fortunately, we discovered that Krista is barely allergic to bee stings. She said afterwards that the frightening cloud of bees trying to burrow to get into tender flesh was worse than the pain of the stings. I am very sympathetic to that sentiment; I feel exactly the same way.

This isn’t exactly normal behavior for a hive, so I guess we’re going to go back to using a smoker and consider upgrading our armor bee suits. Now, when someone asks if we get stung keeping bees, the answer is finally, Yes, every single one of us. The honey is sweeter for all the stings.

xoxo,
Jess

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could somebody bring over some scones?

Stat!

I remember buying honeycomb with my mom at a farm stand as a child. I learned recently that a lot of people have never tried honey in the comb. What!

I guess I better get to baking. We’ve been on this whole grain kick, but I think this is asking for some buttery, white flour-y scones, don’t you?

Thanks, honey, for taking all the stings.

(No, the stings don’t happen too often but we had one angry hive this week.)

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misumena vatia

The other day as we parked in the driveway and walked past our little front yard garden Jess noticed in our California poppies a little yellow spider that had captured a bumblebee.

We felt bad for the little bumblebee but mostly we were struck by the sight of this bright yellow spider with little stripes of red down its side. In almost 35 years of living in the northwest I don’t recall ever seeing one of these little guys.

I quickly found the wiki for misumena vatia, also called the flower crab spider or goldenrod crab spider. Maybe I had seen one before, because they aren’t always yellow. They can change at will from white to yellow to camouflage themselves and are often found near goldenrod. So how is it hanging out in our bright orange poppies?

Jess quickly reminded me that we do have a yellow flower nearby. We had a plant that popped up in that container that we let go for months in case it was one of many varieties of poppy seeds Jess had planted around the yard for her wife (me) who loves poppies. The thing got huge and took ages to flower. We talked about just yanking it several times, but we always let it be just in case. Then it finally formed little clusters of buds and clearly was not a poppy.

Maybe these tiny little flowers are home to our bee eating spider friend.

So is it goldenrod? Unfortunately not. Goldenrod is edible and medicinal and even considered a sign of luck, but we think we have this plant now figured for tansy ragwort, a noxious weed. How funny that we may have never seen this sight if we hadn’t given that weed a home for all these months? Seems like a bit of luck if you ask me.

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Check out that proboscis!

Since it’s a whopping 82 degrees, our bees have been spending a lot of time at the watering hole I built for them. This little lady fell in, and I caught her drying off.

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Summer progresses: blackberries, bees & honey

The blackberries are blooming in my neighborhood. I’ve written about our blackberry issues in the past. They are invasive weeds with sharp thorns, certainly, but lovely ones.

The bees go crazy for them. There is a lot of freshly capped honey in the hives.

Later, we’ll extract the honey. Something like this:

In a few short weeks, we’ll pick the neighborhood blackberries, make jams, jellies, syrups and shrubs. I can’t wait!

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a little solstice indulgence

Since we recently took our first jar of honey from the bees, I decided we should make something a little extra special with some of that honey. What could be more special than homemade ice cream? And what better day to do this than yesterday, the longest day of the year (not to mention it got up to 79 degrees for us and our tomatoes).

While Jess and Levi were at work I prepared a simple mixture of four ingredients: organic cream, organic whole milk, honey from our backyard, and two vanilla beans.

Yes, we like to do some things old school around here. Ice and rock salt and man power.


Clementine helped oversee Levi’s work. He insisted he do all the cranking, which was fine by me.


And then she took a nap because it kind of takes forever to make ice cream.


We peeked inside 3 or 4 times before finding this.


Yes, it does taste as good as you imagine. Better, even.

I used this recipe.

And Jess is celebrating extra. Now that I’ve tasted the rewards of all the work we’ve put into the bees, I don’t want anything to go wrong so I’ve agreed we could fit another hive or two into the yard. I’m so proud of her for keeping these bees going through their first year, and now we have two busy hives pollinating the neighborhood and making our lives a little sweeter.

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