Prepper Diary September 4: A Homestead Update

We face our second hurricane in two weeks, prepare for cooler temperatures and ready our bees to get through the winter.

We survived the aftermath of Hurricane Ida unscathed. It must have brushed by us, saving its anger for folks in New York and New Jersey. We got less rain and less wind than we did with Fred. The power was out for less than two hours.

There was a period of wind when there was a tremendous banging outside. I had to put on my muck boots and my poncho and head out there to batten down the hatches. The big gate to the garden and had blown open. It was slamming against the pole with every gust of wind. I latched it and added a couple of bungee cords to minimize bounce.

I am not sure whether our chickens are brave or stupid. Most of them would rather hang around outside in the rain than in their coop. As a result, I delay letting them out when it is pouring. Our four roosters are all crowing now, but have not been loud enough to wake me up. Still, the day is coming where we have to eliminate at least two of them before they kill each other.

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Good News from the Bee Yard

It’s finally time to harvest some honey and see how our bees performed this year.

We harvested frames of honey today, sliced open the comb and spun it out in our hand-crank extractor. My daughter came to help. She could not make it up the road in her front-wheel-drive car, so she parked at the bottom of the mountain and I drove down to get her.

Unfortunately, I had only five medium frames that were fully drawn out and 100 percent capped. I tested honey in some of the open frames and it was over 20 percent water, so we could not harvest it yet. Apparently, the rain and high humidity have made it difficult for the bees to concentrate the nectar and turn it into honey. The capped honey tested at 17.5 percent water, which is ideal.

One frame I harvested had no foundation, so we cut it into four blocks of solid comb honey and stuck it in the freezer. The other frames spun out to make 10 pounds of honey. We filled up 12 eight-ounce bottles and four one-pound bottles. Counting the two frames of comb honey we have harvested, this brings us to fifteen pounds of honey so far this year.

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Our First Honey Harvest is in and it Tastes Delicious

I didn’t expect to harvest any honey this year, our first with the hives, but just 60 days later, we pulled our first frame of honey from one of the hives.

We harvested our first honey yesterday. Technically, we harvested our first comb honey, a frame of honeycomb made by the bees with about four pounds of honey encapsulated into it. As seen in the photo above, we cut the honey off the frame, creating rectangular chunks that we could fit into Tupperware containers. Two of these went into the freezer for temporary storage and the other one stayed out to be eaten.

We froze the extra comb as a precaution. Freezing kills any wax moth eggs and larvae that may be present in the hive. We don’t have wax month, as far as we know, but we played it safe. The last thing someone wants to do is open their comb honey after a few weeks and see something crawling around in there.

The honey itself was delicious! We made biscuits from scratch and enjoyed them with the honey for breakfast.

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We Test Out the BeeScanning App on Hive Inspection Day

We opened up three hives and took a total of 62 photos to test in the BeeScanning app as a tool to measure a varroa mite infestation.

Four or five days ago, I noticed the bees were zooming about like there was a big nectar flow going on. You can tell because they don’t waste any time lollygagging about on the entrance platform. The bees rush out of the hive entrance and immediately launch themselves, taking off in what I can only assume must be a “beeline.” There is a constant flow of bee activity as they come and go. This behavior is continuing, but they do not seem to be carrying pollen when they return, so I can only assume they are getting just nectar.

I am not sure what is the source of the nectar. Yes, there are wild flowers in our meadow (you might think of them as weeds) and in our early stage pollinator garden, but while I see bumble bees in there, I don’t see honey bees. I have guides to what is blooming when, but they do not take into account our altitude. My best guess is that it is the American Basswood tree (Tilia americana), also known as the Linden. I’m know they are in the woods all around us, but there are none in sight that I can look at and confirm they are blooming. There is also a possibility that it is clover. Or both.

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Warm Weather and Nectar Flow Sends our Bees into Overdrive

Only four weeks after we added bees to our hives, they have doubled in size, the bees are drawing comb, and the queen is laying lots of eggs.

Our beehives have kicked it into high gear. Look at the photo above, is that a box full of bees, or what? Not bad for a hive that started out as a nuc four weeks ago.

All three of our hives have multiple frames of brood in nice patterns with good amounts of honey and beebread. Two of the hives are filling out their second hive body and in each case, the queen is laying in both boxes.

While I was not planning to get any honey this year, this hive looked so strong that I decided to add a super to it and see I have any luck. They will have to draw out the comb, but if we get a good flow, they should be able to do that. If I don’t end up with any honey, hopefully I can get some drawn comb out of them so they can get a head start next year.

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The Chicken Coop is Complete, but the Chicks aren’t Quite Ready for Outdoor Life

We got off to a slow start back in mid-March and the weather wasn’t the most cooperative, but we’ve finally finished building the chicken coop.

The chicken coop is complete! All the doors are in place; I trimmed and screened all the windows with hardware cloth; the locks are installed; the door has tested just fine; and I built the roosts.

Now all we have to do is wait for our chickens to get at least another 10 days older.

Homemade garden gate
This garden gate is five feet wide, which gives plenty of room for a wheelbarrow or a garden tractor to get through.

I am continuing to improve the fencing as well. I have used 6-inch landscaping staples to anchor the welded wire fencing to the ground. Then I started to install the half-inch hardware cloth on the fence that goes around the coop. This is four feet high and I am installing 18 to 24-inches on the ground to keep predators from digging in and the balance above to keep small rodents out. We also installed the garden gate.

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Feeding the Bees and Cleaning the Chickens

We may have small stock, but its keeping us busy! From feeding the bees to cleaning chicks with pasty butt, it’s all part of a day in the life of a homseteader.

Five or six days after transferring my bees from their nucs into a full-size hive, I inspected the three beehives. All of them were doing well. Plenty of yellow and orange pollen is being brought in by the foragers and I could see the bees storing it away.

Hive 1

I switched hive bodies in the first hive, which came on medium frames, putting a medium box on the bottom and adding a new deep hive on top of it. The bees had built comb below one of the medium frames, so I moved it to the larger box, along with a full-size frame on which they had drawn comb. I hope the queen will gradually move to top box and lay her eggs there. I prefer to use my large hive bodies for brood and the mediums for honey, but sometimes things don’t always go as planned. I’ll remain flexible and will wait and see what the bees do.

There were three or four frames with brood which had pollen and wet, uncapped nectar around it with some capped honey at the top. There was also a frame full of bee bread and honey. These bees were in the midst of drawing out a couple frames and are in good shape. I expect the hive to keep growing.

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Wow, Talk About a Busy Day

They say that when it rains it pours. That was the case today when all the livestock we had ordered months ago showed up on the same day.

We were expecting the baby chicks to show up today on either the 6:30 a.m. mail truck of the 8:30 a.m. truck. Both deadlines pass, so I take a shower, grab the garbage, and head out to pick up my two additional hives of bees.

I dropped the garbage off at the waste disposal and management site and was heading toward a breakfast biscuit when the phone rang. It was the post office. The chicks had arrived—more than an hour later than expected. By now, I’m half an hour away, so they would have to wait. I figure, they’ve been in the post offices hands for 36 hours, another one or two won’t matter. So I get breakfast, stop by the ATM so I can pay for my bees, and then visit the bee lady.

We had a friendly chat about pollen flow, her queen breeding business, and other bee-related matters. Then we bundled the two hives into the back of my truck, and I headed to the post office, which was about 45 minutes away. As soon as I walked in the door, I could hear the chicks peeping.

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One Hive Down, Two to Go; Plus Cyberattacks on Essential Services

After a clandestine meeting in which I slipped a woman a wad of $20s and she handed me a small, carefully built wooden box, I was the proud owner of some bees.

The first bee hive is up and running. I picked it up early Thursday and brought it home, dodging raindrops. I waited until about 11 a.m. and installed them in their new hive quickly and easily.

Funny thing: By the time I got my jacket and veil on and marched out at the bee yard, my hive tool had fallen out of my back pocket. There I am with the nuc open and no way to pull out a frame. I unfolded my trusty pocket knife and used it to separate the frames and pry them out.

I don’t recommend prying with a folding knife any more than I recommend digging with it, but it held up well. Good knives, like good tools, are worth every penny.

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The Chicks and Bees are on their Way!

Work continues between the rain drops as the chicken coop and beehives await their new occupa

I received an email from the hatchery that our order of chickens has shipped. I set our brooder up so we are ready and waiting for them. The brooder is a huge dog crate. We will use it without the top until the show signs of flying out, and then we’ll put the top on it. Once they reach four weeks, we’ll move them into the coop.

Our chicken coop is almost complete. The exterior panels are on and all I have to do is set up the hinges and latches on the access doors and set up the chicken door and ladder on the end.

I am also picking up one of my beehives today. I am getting the other two on Friday. (The mystery is solved, and it looks like I am getting three hives and not four.) As you can see in the image up top, all three hives are ready and waiting for their bees.

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