Tag Archives: bees

Suddenly Summer–Time for Bees and More Planting


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The sun sets over the farm. The rows are laid out with drip tape and plastic, using our “new” bed layer, all ready for planting melons, cabbages, and eggplants. We will slowly convert all of our irrigation to this system which saves water and reduces weeding. We will wait another week to plant the heat-loving melons, eggplants, tomatoes and peppers though, as nights here still hover just above 40. We need nights in the mid-50s for these plantings. It is so hard to be patient!

In the meantime, several successions of cold-loving crops have gone in, such as onions, (more than 3800 of the sweet Walla Walla variety, plus more bunching onions) spinach, kale, chard, beets, turnips, lettuces and greens. All this on top of the protected plantings of carrots greens and onions started in February and March in the two hoophouses, which were moved last month. The two houses are already filled with their summer crops.

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Artichokes, a new crop we’re trying out this year, have been planted inside the small hoophouse. Since this photo, a row and a half of cayenne peppers also got put in. You can see the garlic growing on the other side of the hoophouse.DSC_0013Rosie was game to try out the new two seater planter we got on loan. Our maiden voyage was to plant 600 strawberry plants for next season.

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Rosie and Bill took their positions on the back while Mike drove.

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After a lot of trial and error they got it done. We still need to learn how to set up and use this tool properly!

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Each person alternatively drops a plant between two revolving discs which open up the ground and put the plant in the proper position. It was a little bit daunting, but in the end, much kinder on the knees! We hope to use this planter to get all the broccoli and cauliflower in.

DSC_0009Meanwhile, in the large hoophouse, the tomatoes are growing very well. We’ve also planted a bed of ginger along one side, and will grow pickling cucumbers on a trellis along the other side. We are working to maximize valuable growing space inside the hoophouses.

DSC_0008The mesclun mix is ready for its third cutting! Romaine heads are getting bigger, in time for our first CSA shares which begin June 10. Bunching onions will make a delicious addition to our first shares, along with baby spinach, radishes, and fully grown sweet winter carrots!

DSC_0081And in the middle of all this activity, the bees arrived! We lost all four of our hives last winter. One we knew had a weak queen. We knew we had at least two swarms,  maybe three, last summer. Two of the hives hung on until nearly spring, but didn’t make it. We were left with two broodboxes full of honey, which we will put on the hives in September to help get our bees through next winter. We are about a month late getting the two bee packages in. However, we have enough hive equipment to give these new bees fully built out comb in two deep boxes, which should help them along. If you are starting from scratch, it takes the bees quite awhile to just build comb on all the frames, so we are hopeful that the bees will have an advantage this year. Our main intention is to get these bees pollinating our crops. Some honey at the end of the season is really a bonus for us!

DSC_0056Two of our interns, Rosie and Alisha (doing a great job as photographer, which is why she is not in the photos! Thanks Lish!) helped install the packages. It was a first for both of them, and quite exciting!

DSC_0034This was a first for me, as well, installing packages without Mike and Bill’s input. But we did ok.  The queens must be accepted by the hive (by smell,) so they come protected in little cages that you hang inside the hive. They chew their way out through a candy plug. By the time they get out, usually, the hive has accepted her. We will check in 7 days, and hopefully remove the empty queen cages. In another 7 days after that, we check once more to determine that the queen is laying capped brood. Fingers crossed!

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Rocking that bee-hoodie Rosie!

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A Swarm!


I got my local beekeeping club newsletter in my email, this very morning. It said, “After an extended period of rain, there’s a good chance of a swarm on this first sunny warm day.” Also, we recently re-queened our weakest hive. Even though we removed the reigning queen, the hive must have contained queen cells. Two queens can’t live in one hive, so the hive splits and it’s a swarm!

Which is what we got today!

Pretty exciting, in restrospect…

I had just returned home from doing some errands. Bill called asking me to hurry down to the farm with the bee suits and gloves, so I grabbed them and the camera and drove over. I was pulling on my bee coat and hood and gloves as I ran up to the beehives. When I got there, Michael was already up a large step ladder in the middle of a grove of small cedars. The swarm was tens of thousands of bees dripping from a branch high up above the top of the ladder, balled around the queen. He had a saw and some loppers, and on the ground nearby, he and Bill had prepared a box with frames to put the swarm in.

So, I’m dressed in shorts but I’m wearing my full bee jacket and hood, with gloves, holding the ladder on decidedly sloped ground so Michael won’t tip over. I can just picture me and my son in a heap under a swarm of angry bees so I yell “hang on! I’ll get help!” I let go and ran for more hands. Bill and Rich came out and Rich helped me hold the ladder.

Meanwhile, Michael sawed away at a bee-covered branch right over our heads as Rich joked about getting hit by a bee bomb. Michael needed three hands, and asked me to climb up the ladder to help. I started up. Then, he said he wanted me to climb out into the branches of the tree next to him to hold the branch. This is when I hit my limit. “No! There’s no way! I don’t have the courage to do that! I clambered back down the ladder. Bill stepped in, no bee gear on, and climbed the ladder. Rich and I held on to keep him steady. Michael cut the branch and slowly lowered it onto the top of the ladder. He clipped a side branch which was also laden with bees, and at first the branch was held to the rest of the swarm just by the mass of bees. Finally, it broke free, and suddenly, bees rained down on Rich’s bare head like Rice Krispies. He’s saying, “Oh God, they’re all over my head! They’re all over me!” But he stayed cool long enough for Michael to hand the bee-dripping branch off to Bill who balanced it there. Michael crashed down from his perch in the tree and came around the ladder and gracefully took the branch from his father. He swung it around toward the box as Rich ran off to take off his shirt where bees had taken refuge. I recovered my camera from where I put it under the tree.

I got no pictures of the actual swarm in the tree, there was no good angle on it. Not to mention I was holding the ladder, but I took this shot afterward to give you an idea of where it was. The swarm was a good six feet higher than the top of this step ladder. 

I got some shots of Michael shaking the branch over the box. The bees seemed to realize that this was shelter. The rest of the swarm began flying toward the box where they smelled their queen. They put a temporary cover on the box, propped up with a sticks. Bees were swarming everywhere!

High fives all around! Nobody stung! And best of all, we now have a free fourth hive! How awesome is this!

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Honey!


So what if it was 98 and humid on Friday? It was time to extract the honey from the hive, and at those temperatures, the honey flows better! We now have about 35+ pounds of sweet, delicious, light-colored early honey. Meaning the nectar was gathered from the early blooms this year, often the best quality honey. We think it tastes better than anything we’ve bought. Maybe because it’s ours!

Michael  begins scratching the wax capping off the honey cells. The supers were heavy and thick with honey. Loaded!

We only scrape the wax off one side at a time. Less oozing and mess that way!

We spin two frames at a time. It takes a lot of manpower to crank the extractor one way, then the other. Centrifugal force, baby! 

The honey needs to sit in the bucket for a few days until all the bubbles rise to the surface. Then we can put it up in jars to enjoy.

Desi will use the wax to make lotions and potions from her “farmacy” herb garden…

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Bees! Honey! Tomatoes!


We checked the bees today and found a completely full super of honey. So we lit the smoker and brought back a rubbermaid bin with lid and a damp towel.

Michael pries out the first frame from the super. The bees were remarkably unconcerned about our presence.

The box and towel are to prevent a “robbing incident.” As soon as the frames are pulled out of the hive, they are whisked into the box and covered with the towel. This is so the bees don’t smell the honey and try to get it back!

The brush in Michael's hand is to brush the bees off the frame as it is pulled out.

All frames are filled solid, both sides, and nicely capped.

Bees are such remarkable creatures! They create perfectly identical octagonal cells that are slightly angled down into which they deposit nectar which is regurgitated from their honey stomachs. Then they tend it so that the water evaporates from the nectar until it is the exact right specific gravity of honey, then they seal it over with wax. Did you know that honey is the only food found in nature that will never spoil? Sealed honey comb has been found in Egyptian tombs that’s still good. Amazing!

This week, we will scrape the wax caps off each frame and spin out the honey. By the weight of the frames, we anticipate more than 30 lbs of sweet, delicious, light colored spring honey! Our patience and persistence is finally being rewarded!

Today, Michael also began pruning all the excess foliage from the greenhouse tomatoes. This puts all the energy into the clusters of tomatoes, which are pruned to no more than six.  The top of the plant continues to grow, and in fact, once the tomatoes at the bottom are harvested, it is possible to drop the plant down to re-root. This causes the top of the plant to continue to grow and produce fruit. This ensures tomatoes for as long as the daylight length holds out, perhaps October.

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The Buzz On Our Bees


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We have very good news this year: Our bees have finally made it through a winter and it looks like it’s a strong hive. This hive did really well last summer, but it was one of two new packages we installed last April. This means that the bees use all their energy and time to build comb, so we missed the Spring honey flow. This is always the major flow of the season. We ran into trouble right away with our second new hive last year. The queen was DOA. A second queen was shipped in from Georgia overnight, and we installed her, but she wasn’t a strong queen. That hive died around mid-summer.

But there was still hope for our first hive. The first year we did bees, we got 30 lbs of honey. With one of the hottest summers in a long time, the late flow was not very good. Our bees managed to collect enough stores to survive the winter, but there was nothing extra for us. We learned in October when we visited the Topsfield Fair Bee building, that most of the honey produced around here last year came from that early Spring flow with very little honey produced after the Spring flow.

Last fall, we decided not to wrap our hive, but instead put an extra empty super on top which we stuffed with hay. We also stuffed hay underneath the box. This seemed to keep the bees insulated but dry. It’s not cold that kills the bees, it’s the moisture. So we’ll definitely try that again. 

We’re getting a new box of bees on Friday so we will have a second hive. More photos of that will follow!

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This Week in Pictures


Installing two new bee packages.

Made compost tea in Dave’s greenhouse.

Michael gets ready to fill the sprayer.

Spraying on the compost tea.

True Charantais Melons! Going in the ground very soon!

What a face!

This is one of last year’s babies at Parker River Alpaca Farm

Ross, Casey and Richie worked hard to fix the beds that were damaged by the March flooding.

Finally ready for planting!

The view from the back garden. This old shed is being fixed to house chickens!

Colorful marigolds are planted throughout the garden for pest control.

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