Sunday, April 30, 2017

DIY Bee Vacuum, Direct to Hive!

Continuing from the last post, of the bee swarm that we watched happen from our one remaining hive...

The bees had landed on the old post inside a bush along the driveway. But then they shifted from the top of the post to the bottom of the bush!  The mound of bees was partly in the grass, situated inside 3 thick trunks of the bush.  An impossible situation for any normal recovery.

So, we built a special bee vacuum! Not really a vacuum, more of a method of moving the bees into a hive right on the spot.

Here is the starting point... a clump of bees in the grass and shrub trunk. 
First thing to do was to move a fresh top bar hive within a few feet of the swarm without disturbing them. this worked perfectly!

The top bar hive is placed to the right of the swarm, within a couple feet. We placed the divider in the middle to give an appropriate sized home for this little swarm. 
The next step was to seal the hive. Yes, seal it. This was accomplished with two kitchen garbage bags across the top, and duct tape all around. The tape sealed the edges of the bags to the outside of the hive. plus the entrance and vent holes. We even sealed around the glass viewing window. the only opening was one bar, removed to make room for the vacuum hose that would bring the bees. The hose fit perfectly through the slot left by one bar, and that was securely taped into position.

Here is the completely sealed hive, with vacuum hose for bee extraction in the middle and shop vac on the right. 

The hose for the shop vac was taped over a vent hole, that had screen inside to prevent the bees from getting into the vacuum. To hold the hose in position, we taped it to the fence right behind (past the right of the pic)

Here is a closeup of the vacuum hose connection. You can see the extra top bar holding the lid just open enough to provide easy access. 
Now, just turn on the shop vac and here we go ! The vacuum was perfect. Just enough to barely pull the bees into the hose, but not hurt them. In fact, we had to stop multiple times to "clear" the bee clog inside the hose. The little bees kept grabbing the ribs of the hose and each other.. instant clog! Otherwise it worked perfectly!

Hunter takes a turn sucking up bees into the hive

Here you ca see the hose taped to the fence to hold the weight. 
The silly looking contraption worked amazingly well! We managed to get 90% of the bees into the hive, including the queen, with virtually no causalities! The hive remained so calm for most of the operation that we didnt even need a bee suit or gloves.  Thy got a little flustered when the queen disappeared up the hose, but otherwise they just stayed happily crawling around or buzzing around.

The bee vacuum at work, almost done!

When we were all done, we had to remove hte hose to prevent the bees from escaping or gluing it shut! So we did pulled off the tape around the hose and quickly, very quickly removed the hose and dropped the bar back into place. The bees almost started spilling out to attack us, but things went just well enough. Everyone was tired and testy, so we just walked away to give them a chance to calm down.

Here is the after shot, all bees inside but not totally cleaned up yet. They got a little testy when we started pulling the tape off. We decided they had been through enough and waited till nightfall to finish

Now isnt this peaceful! by evening, all was quiet, we cleaned everything up and the bees are busily building their new home inside. 

The gently buzz of happy bees hard at work... a few scouts coming and going... all is well!
The bee vacuum was such a success, we are talking about ways to take this on the road and collect wild swarms this year to populate all the hives again.

Little Sprouts is back int he honey business!

Bee Swarm!

In the middle of the Friday morning we discovered that our one remaining bee hive was swarming!

You may recall, we stopped our bee operation when the GMO alfalfa went in near us, becasue we could not guarantee that the bees would stay out of the alfalfa field and the excessive  chemicals used on the GMO crop. That effectively shut down our bee operation and honey products for a few years. During that time, we had one very healthy hive that just hung in there... year after year. And this spring it is stronger than ever.  So.. as all hives do, it swarmed to make a new generation.

Here is the top bar hive that they came out of, under the larger tree on the left. Where the eventually ended up landing on the first day is the shrub you can see right in the middle of this pic, along the driveway. If you look closely you can see thousands of bees in the air. 

Here they are starting to gather up around the shrub. There is actually a 4x4 post right next to the shrub that the queen landed on, In this pic you can see the cloud of bees hovering around the bush. 

These are the guys that stayed behind to make a new queen and start a new generation. They clumped on the back of the hive for a few hours then went inside to get to work by nightfall. 
It was fascinating to be there to watch the entire process from start to finish. We were able to clearly see each stage as it happened:

  1. The bees clumped outside the hive, waiting for the queen to make her appearance from inside. 
  2. Once she emerged, she takes off flying and all the clumped bees joined her in the air, making a cloud of bees.
  3. The cloud expanded to maybe 100 feet as they sought the queen's direction. 
  4. The queen lands on the top of the post inside that bush, and the cloud followed her and condensed down to a clump of bees on the post.
  5. Most bees clumped to protect the queen, but a few scouts started flying around looking for a new home. 

The whole process only took about 4 hours start to finish.  They only move maybe a hundred feet, but it was a tightly choreographed operation!

Here is a video showing the start of the swarming.

And this video shows them landing on the post. Listen closely to the awesome sound of a swarm of bees!

Now the race was on to assemble a new hive and capture the swarm  so that we could keep them. We are reentering the honey production business this year, since the GMO alfalfa is now illegal in the county and must be removed. We are once again able to make the best raw honey possible!

IF... we can catch this swarm.

At first, we thought  the challenge would be removing the queen from the holes in the old post. But no. By the end of the day, the swarm had move from the top of the post to the BOTTOM!

Now that is a challenge! There seems no easy way to get them out from between the branches and the grass.  So, the only option was.. a bee vacuum! We don't have one, (although I always wanted a "real" bee vacuum) So we decided to build one. Not just any bee vacuum, but one specifically designed for this particular situation...

Check out the next post for the answer!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fava beans are up!

They are here! Our first fava bean sprouts.

It seemed a bit of touch and go with a few sprouts appearing each day for almost 2 weeks, but all of a sudden.. boom! Bean sprouts!

They look healthy and consistent!

The rows are not necessarily straight... But hey... Perfect rows aren't everything!

posted from Bloggeroid

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Quick Update on things for April

Sorry, no pictures on this post. Quite honestly... we have been a bit too busy to keep up with reporting on things.  So here is a quick update:

1. The fave beans are sprouted, reasonably well. Not as good as hoped, but not bad. The week of warmer rains might bring a few more to the surface... hopefully.

2. We did manage to get the entire main garden tilled this week, just in time for the rain. As always, the plan is to till as soon as dry enough, then let it sit through a warm rain (at least not cold) to sprout initial weed set, then a light till when it dries again and plant.  We have the first tilling done, now waiting for the rain, sprouting, retilling and planting. For the curious, the main garden this year is right at 1 1/2 acres in size.

3. We have 2 more areas hoping to get planted before summer, the old goat pen and the present pig pen. Those two are well fertilized and ready to go. But, the goat pen is much too muddy yet and the pig pen is.. well.. housing pigs yet! Plus the pigs totally tore down one side of fencing, held up by a pallet, so that must be replaced.

4. There are 2 more potential areas to plant this year... one has been housing horses for several years, and the other is the original winter garden spot. both should grow well.

5. The goats are almost all into milk now, ready for the season.  It has meant some serious restructuring of the barn to accommodate the bulk of the herd all at once, but it is slowly coming together.

6. We did manage to get the milking barn rebuilt, cleaned up from the winter, and useable again.

7. The new chicken flock is doing well, we ended up with right at 150 young birds that look healthy and happy. They will be coming out of the brooders this week and into their first job of fertilizing one garden area.

8. The new guinea fowl arrive this week, which means we will be retiring the old flocks to start anew, providing some excellent meat and organs for sale.

9. We have tested last year's home made "feed" of dehydrated zuchinni and greens. It stored exceptionally well! opening the buckets after 6 months revealed perfectly dry, aromatic, well preserved vegetables! The chickens were the first recipients of this marvelous free feed and they love it as long as it is ground a bit into smaller chunks. And their eggs... WHOA! the best eggs we have ever produced! Thick orange yolks, well developed whites, perfect aroma and a beautiful soft flavor. These are , in my humble opinion, the best eggs I have ever seen! And that is without the bug barn in operation, just zuchinni and greens! It looks like the experiment is a smashing success!

10. This week with the rains we hope to spend time finishing the barn insides and getting the chickens moved into their spring positions. Then it's office work! We have lots of paperwork to do to support the new may announcements!

I think that's about it for now. Please forgive us for not keeping up with emails this week, the pleasant weather break meant some long days, and enough hours in the sun to build a nice sunburn! The rains means that things will settle a bit and we can get back on top of things.

Thanks for all your support!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Spring is here! Fava Beans in the Ground!

Spring has finally arrived and we are busy getting seed into the ground for this year's animal feed harvests.  Yes it is a tad early, but some plants are fine germinating in the cooler weather. This includes the new trial crop for 2017, FAVA BEANS!

The beans are a good 1/2 to 3/4 inch across, sometimes as much as an inch! That is the largest bean I have ever seen!

Here is a pile of beans spilled out on the grass

We are trying heriloom fava beans to use as animal feed. They are very starchy beans that grow in HUGE pods with HUGE beans! The nutritional stats look good, and the weather profile looks acceptable for an early spring planting.

So this week we planted 6 rows of 60 yards each in fava beans. There are no drip lines yet,  which is unique for our system. But the weather should see some nice bouts of rain yet, enough to sprout these seeds, so we literally just tilled up the driest spot available and put seeds in. If the rain doesn't materialize over the weekend, then we will install drip lines.

These beans are too large to fit any of the hand push automatic seeders, so we needed another way to avoid the planting backache. The answer? a 3/4 inch PVC pipe! I held the pipe at one end, placed the bottom where I wanted the seed, and dropped one down. It would land in a small impression, and Hunter would come along to bury and compress them. This was quite efficient! Occasionally the beans would not fit, but not too often. Usually they slid right down with a song and a thud.

Our homemade fava bean planter. Just a piece of 3/4 inch pipe. Drop one at the top as you walk down the row and it is easy to space them out without bending over. 

Then just follow along and bury each one by hand.
We managed to turn a 60 yard by 120 yard patch of pasture into a garden, with 6 60 yard rows of fava beans planted, all in one day. We just finished as the sun set.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sheep and grass

The sheep had same quality time with green grass over the weekend! The ground is finally drying out enough for them to graze without mud puddles.

This patch will soon become the first spring garden as soon as it can be tilled, so why waste the grass?  We will let the sheep consume it until it's time to till and plant.

posted from Bloggeroid