Hiving the New Bees

When you live on a farm, work changes with the seasons.

I’ve opened the Nuc box and removed one frame with several thousand bees on it.

Winter is a time of rest, for the soil, animals, and people, but not for bees. They collect together and vibrate to keep the queen and brood warm, but all too often, they don’t survive the cold and damp of winter. Despite my efforts in the fall, my two colonies didn’t endure the harsh short days of winter.

I’m putting one of the frames into its new home.

But spring is a time of renewal. All those chores you couldn’t get to because of bad weather now need to be done. The chicks have been moved from the bathroom to a special pen outside. Fences are being mended, and gates fixed. Despite the workload, I love this time of year. Months ago, I ordered a single replacement bee colony and it arrived, along with dozens of others, at a nearby apiary this morning.

On this warm and sunny day in April, one of the chores that must be done is hiving the bees. These little workers will soon pollinate our orchard trees, garden, and flowers.

We let them keep all the honey they produce during the first year. If they survive until next fall they’ll have made enough for us to harvest gallons of honey.

But, that’s a chore for another season.

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Surviving the Winter

My bees have survived winter – at least so far.

Kyle opens the hive.

Kyle opens the hive.

A few days ago the temperature rose into the low fifties. Between rain showers, I hurried out to inspect both of my hives. I didn’t have to open them to know the most important news, as of that day in late January both colonies had survived the winter. Individual bees were flying out and returning to both structures.

Before opening the hives, I cleared a few dead bees from near the entrance. This is normal. Worker bees remove the dead from the hive, but on cold days they don’t take the bodies far. Then I removed the top of the hive. Immediately below the roof is a box with a wire mesh bottom. On top of that is a cloth and resting on that are cedar chips. This collects excess moisture during our damp rainy winters. I was pleased to see that it was dry. 

Deep in the hive below, I heard the buzz of a healthy colony. I quickly returned the moisture box and roof to the hive.

In a few weeks, I’ll open the hive again and add food to tide the bees over until spring.

Click on the following links to read my author bio, life in Lewis County or more about my life on the farm.

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Hiving the Bees

Spring is bee time on the farm

Yes, those are bees on the box.

Yes, those are bees on the box.

The bees didn’t arrive yesterday, a warm and sunny day. No, they arrived today when it was cool and wet. We prefer driving to the delivery site in the farm truck. We can put the bee boxes on the truck bed and drive home, but because today was so inclement we took the car for the forty-minute drive. Have you ever driven with ten thousand bees in your car? Our bees were inside two boxes, but it’s still an experience. Some always find a way out.  

On our small farm, we keep bees both for pollination and for honey production, but we lost our last hive during the winter. This video, filmed on April 22, 2017, starts with me retrieving one of our two new colonies of Carniolan honeybees from the greenhouse where we left them while making final hiving preparations.

Lorraine, my wife, went ahead and waited to assist me in the apiary. My son, James, is the cameraman and isn’t wearing a protective suit while he films.

Hopefully, these bees will store up lots of pollen and honey during the summer and survive the upcoming winter.

Click on the following links to read my author bio to read more about my life on the farm, or see more blogposts with video.

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Death in the Apiary

We had a week of cold and snow on the farm. 

The weather made for some beautiful pictures, which you can see on the Facebook page, but it got very cold. On a mild day this week my wife came in from outside and said, “There’s no activity in the apiary.”

Author Kyle Pratt checks a hive

I like to keep two colonies, but one colony had died last year. I hurried to my one remaining colony.

Bees are very clean and will not defecate in the hive. So, on mild winter days they fly out to take care of business. As I approached it was clear no bees were busy doing business. I put my ear to the hive. No buzzing.

At that point I opened the hive. Thousands of bees were there in a tight cluster—all dead.

Since I see each colony as being in my care, it really saddens me if one dies. I feel there is always something more I could have, or should have, done.
After a few days of mourning, I’ll clean out the hive boxes and order two more colonies of Carniolan honey bees through my local bee association.
Hopefully, next winter will be mild. 

Click on the following links to read my author bio or read more about my life on the farm.

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Winter is Coming

Living close to nature means that there are annual chores that must be performed.

On a sunny day last week I took some time off from writing and prepared the farm for winter. I opened the one beehive we have this year and made sure the colony was healthy. The workers had sealed every crevice and joint with propolis, a good sign. I added a special insulation box to the top and slid in a bottom board. Winter is a hard time for bees, but the colony is now as ready as they can be.

Preparing equipment was my big job of the day. I did some last minute chainsaw cutting, then cleaned the saw and put it on the shelf. I may need it during the winter if a tree falls, but the woodshed is already full.

Lorraine with the last of the 2016 crop

This place is really just an oversized hobby farm so I use mowers and tillers, not tractors or combines. I cleaned each and emptied the last of the fuel and oil.  

While I performed these chores Lorraine cleaned the hen house. This has to be done often, but it sure is nicer to do it on sunny days. After that, she harvested the last of the fruit from the trees and vegetables from the garden. In the days to come, she will be making pies, applesauce and dehydrating the rest.

Spring has its own special chores, but that is another story.

Honey Harvest for 2015

The honey harvest this year was very good.

Kyle Pratt ready to harvest from one of his hives.

We have only two hives on our small farm, but even so, the harvest takes nearly all day. After breakfast we set up the equipment, including our honey extractor (basically a hand-crank centrifuge), stainless steel buckets, a couple of food-grade plastic pails, strainers and assorted tools.

Kyle Pratt harvesting honey.

Then we don all of our protective gear because the bees really don’t like what we are about to do. By nine in the morning we are at the apiary and I pulled off the lid of the first hive. The top of the frames in the honey super were covered with thousands of bees and more were inside. Every bee had to be brushed off before the honey frame could be taken. 

By the time my wife and I were done the bees were very mad. That’s why I do the harvest inside. If I harvested outside all those outraged bees would crawl over everything and try to sting me. After I removed the appropriate frames and brushed off the bees, I passed them to my wife. She took them to our garage, where we had everything ready for extraction.

Lorraine Pratt looks over twenty pounds of honey.

When I finished, and closed the hives, I joined my wife inside for the harvest. Using a long knife we cut the comb open and place the frames into the centrifuge. Then I cranked and cranked. It takes a lot of arm work, but the honey soon begins to flow and continues in a slow stream for hours. By the end of the day, my wife and I harvested 308 fluid ounces of honey or over twenty pounds.

Don’t worry about the bees. We take only the excess; most of the honey is left in the hive, so they can eat during the winter.

The New Hive

Spring is a busy time for the beekeeper.

I only had one bee colony that survived the winter and I have been feeding them a sugar-water syrup for a few weeks. Thursday night my new colony of bees arrived.  

My surviving colony is of Italian bees, from the Apennine Peninsula of Italy, they are the most popular type of bee in America, but may not be the best suited the Pacific Northwest. Since I was ordering a new colony I decided to get Carniolan bees, from the region of Carniola, now in Slovenia. They are the second most popular species among beekeepers and are known for working in cooler temperatures, resistance to some diseases and parasites and being adept at adjusting worker population to nectar availability. This may help in early spring.

I won’t really know if they are a good fit for my apiary for about a year, but you rest assured I’ll keep you informed. 

Opening the Hive

Spring time brings extra chores for those living on a farm.

Normally, I keep two bee colonies, but only one survived the winter. On a warm day earlier this month I opened the remaining hive to check on the colony. I try to find the queen, see if she is laying eggs, ensure there is enough food and, check to see if they workers are planning to swarm (break away and form a new colony).

Taking the hive apart gets the bees very mad. I was fully suited up and not worried, but my brave wife, Lorraine, did the video. That meant she needed one hand uncovered to control the camera. At one point several bees landed on her hand. Fortunately, for both of us, she didn’t get stung.

I didn’t find the queen, but everything else looked healthy. I’ve have another colony of bees on order. They should arrive in April.

I wonder if I can get Lorraine to film that? 

Busy Bees & Keepers

Spring is a busy time for bees and beekeepers.

For most of the country this winter has snowy and cold, but in western Washington state the weather has been mild. As a beekeeper this is both a blessing and a problem.

If the winter is short and mild it is a blessing in that the bees use less food and plants bloom early. This gives the bees a longer period to build up supplies for the next winter. However, the weather is mild, but winter returns, the entire colony might starve because of the postponed spring. Right now it looks like winter will continue to fade away.

I have three hives (the boxes), but only keep two colonies of bees for to pollenate my garden and orchard. While I’ve done this for eight years, what I know I learned through trial and error (many errors) and by reading books. I’ve never taken a class—until now. I took this picture as the second session of the apprentice beekeeping class ended today. While I’m probably beyond the apprentice level, I’ve learned things during both sessions. The class has three more sessions.

The smiling woman, with lanyard, is Susanne Weil, one of the officers of our local beekeeping association. She is standing behind two hive boxes.

I have only one colony of bees, but I’ll be ordering a package of bees in a couple of days. A package consists of a queen and around 2000 bees in a box. While they arrive I’ll do a blogpost about it.  

Living What I Write

I don’t just write survival or prepper themed books, I live the life.

Kyle Pratt with a bee frame

Many of the people who aren’t involved in prepping think of those who are as crazy. I think of prepping as insurance against unforeseen problems. Where I live in Lewis county, Washington state, it can flood this time of year. During winter storms the power can go out. I like knowing that I’m prepared.

As part of my chosen lifestyle I live on a small farm. Most farm activities lend themselves naturally to a prepping lifestyle. One thing we do on the farm is raise bees. It’s a small operation, only two honey bee hives, but we usually harvest a nice amount of honey.

Lewis County Beekeepers Assn. meeting

I’ve been a member of the Lewis County Beekeepers’ Association for years. A few days ago I showed up for a meeting and noticed a sign by the door, “Capacity 82.” The room was nearly full when I showed up so, just to amuse myself, I counted heads. There were over seventy people in the room. It was nice to see that many people interested in bees from our rural county. Especially, this time of year when the bees are in their winter cluster in the hive.

Orchard Mason bee homes and supplies

The topic that night was the orchard mason bee, a native bee of North America that is also dormant this time of year. The speaker, Tim Weible shared some great information about how to build mason bee houses (they don’t live in hives), their biology, coping with mites and more.

I live close to nature and when the animals, insects and planets on the farm are doing well I know that I’m better prepared for whatever might come.