Goldenrod and Asters Help our Bees Prep for Winter

You could consider bees preppers. They stock up nectar (carbs) and pollen (protein) to help carry them through the long. cold winter.

The goldenrod and several varieties of aster have been blooming for a couple weeks, but I haven’t seen bees on them until this week.

Both flowers are known for providing bees with critical nectar and the pollen they need to bulk up their stores and get prepared for the winter. It’s possible last week’s rain washed out some resources, and they weren’t worth gathering from them until things dried up. It’s also possible that the Jewel Weed, the Iron Weed, and other flowers were a bigger draw for the bees. Now these plants have gone to seed, so the bees are focusing on the goldenrod and asters, which are among the final blooms of the season.

Just another sign that fall is here. Time to get the hives prepared.

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Taking Advantage of the Cooler Weather on the Homestead

We are working to make fall plantings, clean up the homestead, stock up, and generally make sure we are ready for winter.

We are enjoying the break from hot summer weather and the end of the rain to get some work done and enjoy ourselves around the homestead. The chickens are benefitting as we are throwing armfuls of weeds and uprooted garden plants into their run.

Weed Whacker Upgrade

I was using 095 string in my string trimmer, but the larger plants would just destroy the string. It would break it off so close to the hub that new string would not come out. I’d have to stop, flip the string trimmer upside down, disassemble the spool of string, and re-string it. After three or four times, this got annoying.

I finally upgraded to a metal blade. I was looking for the big three-point blade, but no one had one locally. Instead, I installed one of the four-point “grass” blades. What a difference! I am now mowing down thick woody plant stems, green and dried grass, and small trees (about half an inch) with ease. It works so well, I may never return to sting. It also looks like the blade will simple to re-sharpen with a file, although I only hit two rocks, so far. You definitely don’t want to use the metal blade close to your house or a fence line.

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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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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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Prepper Diary: A Chilly and Somber Memorial Day

Why do we say “Happy Memorial Day?” Shouldn’t it be a more somber holiday? This year the weather was cold enough that no one on the East Coast felt like celebrating the start of summer.

Depending on which digital thermometer you believe, it is either 68 degrees or 65.7 in my basement.

So much for the accuracy of digital thermometers.

The old-fashioned analog thermometer agrees with the lower temperature, and my toes are inclined to believe it. As temperatures have plummeted this weekend, with highs in the low 50s and night time temps back into the 30s, I have had to decide it I want to start a fire in the wood stove or just put on another fleece.

I am opting for the latter, but only because sun and warmer temperatures are supposed to lie in our immediate future. We also added another blanket to the bed, and our Memorial Day picnic at the neighbor’s has moved indoors.

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Ending our Weekly COVID-19 Report with a Victory

When Charlie Sheen famously said “Winning!” it came back to bite him, but we’re still declaring victory over COVID-19. For now, at least.

Fourteen months after the start of the COVID-19 outbreak swept through the U.S., I am putting what I hope will be a definite hold on our Monday report that has ran every Monday for months. We’ll be back if COVID-19 is back, but we hope that won’t be necessary. Coverage of fallout from the virus will continue.

This blog started as a way to kill time and report on my self-imposed quarantine, but has evolved into much more. Thanks to the many people who have checked in from time to time and especially to our regular readers.

India is still adding 1.5 million cases per week and may eventually overtake the U.S. to become the worst-hit country in the world.

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Prepper Diary May 8: Chicken Coops, Bee Hives, and Cold Weather

The weather interferes with our plans, but work progresses on the homestead as we continue to ready for our chicks and bees to be delivered.

After a couple days of rain, yesterday dawned dreary and cold, but I had hopes I would get to work outside. The “late afternoon showers” arrived early, cutting my plans short. I hand to stop measuring the chicken coop to cut and fit exterior panels. I had time to install the three chicken nesting boxes pictured in the main image, above, but not to cut any wall panels.

These nesting boxes came from Tractor Supply and cost about $20 each. They are plastic, so they should be easy to clean and won’t mold or rot. The slanted roofs prevent birds from roosting (and pooping) on them. 

The boxes were easy to install and should be easy to remove or move to another location. I don’t expect to do that as I am cutting a slot in the siding and installing a flip-open panel to allow easy access to get the eggs from the nest. If I move the nesting boxes, then I’ll have a hinged access for no reason.

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