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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Un-Winterizing the Bees … and a basement booze update

We saw a 65+ degree day today in Iowa! (Of course, it may snow later this week too…) But today is a great day to get out to the bees (in a truck this time, not sledding across a field) and take off the insulating layers we put on last fall to help the bees survive the winter.

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Bees in flight.

It was a beautiful sight, seeing so many bees in the air when we arrived. We fed more patties, as four of the five hives had mowed the last batch down. And, we flipped the hive bodies around, moving top to bottom, and did some general spring cleaning of the bottom boards. We saw lots of eggs and larvae, so that means they’re ramping up their numbers for the growing season. We didn’t take many pictures because once the hives were opened up there were thousands of bees in the air and Robin didn’t think running around with her glove off was in her best interest.

One mouse was living between the insulating black box and the hive body. It shot out and ran across both of our feet in a flash. When something runs across your foot in a flash, everyone gets pretty excited for a few seconds.

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Saturday, we racked a bunch of mead (honey wine) that we started last fall. As you may remember, racking is moving the mead to a new bottle, leaving the layer of dead yeast, lees, behind. OF COURSE we taste test everything as we rack. Hic. In short, we liked everything, but it all needs a bit more mellowing. The cysers (apple cider + honey) were smooth and sweet. We added spices to a cyser that was previously unspiced, after comparing it to a spiced version. Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and orange peel. We have two versions of cherry + honey. One started with a ‘Juicy-Juice’ kind of base, and the other with the more expensive cherry juice concentrate. Both were good, but naturally, the expensive cherry starter is much better. Once racked, we added a bag of whole tart cherries to each bottle and put them back in the basement to further mellow. We have a 3-gallon bottle of spiced orange cider + honey perking along, and it is DELICIOUS. Robin likes sweet drinks and this one is right up her alley.

Hard cider bottled up!

Hard cider bottled up!

And finally, we bottled 11 bottles of the hard apple cider that we started last fall. We put a carbonation drops in a couple of bottles, and added molasses to a couple bottles in an effort to back-sweeten it. It will be interesting to see what the fruits of our labors taste like when we open the bottles the best couple of months.

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Over the Hill (& creek) and Through the Woods to the Bees We Go

The five hives – Thor, Lena, Ole, Lily von Shtupp & Lars.

It’s been a long time since we saw the bees. And as bitterly cold January and February wore on, and on, and on … we often commented, “Man, I hope the bees are okay.”

We heard about bees starving all the way back in January because they burned through their winter stores quickly during the harsh winter. Because the bees are toward the middle of a mile-section taking a little trip to see the bees is problematic in the winter. Big problems call for big solutions – or at least a new sled to help us schlep all the stuff on foot to the bees.Every notice how sledding isn't quite as much fun when you're an adult?

On March 7 we made a point to get out to the bees. We were looking at a +40 degree day so it was time to put on our Big Boots and mush out there. Winter patties (carbohydrates + touch of protein) are a good late-winter foodstuff when the hives’ store of honey is running low.

We really didn’t know what we’d find. In 2013 the bees had put up quite a bit of honey even though the summer ended on a dry note. We also fed supplemental syrup to give he bees an added bump. But, what did the polar vortex do to our hives? We were relieved to find 4 hives full of bees and still some honey. The fifth colony, Lars, had fewer bees, but still plugging along. Most still had syrup from last fall still in the feeders! We put three patties and a small spacer ( to allow for room around the patties for the bees to move around) on each colony, to help through March – which is traditionally the hardest month on bees.

Time to feed the bees.

So, fingers still crossed for another couple of months. Meanwhile, we have the pieces-parts for two new hives in the basement, awaiting assembly. Hopefully we’ll be able to split a couple of our current hives to increase the herd.

And in case you’re wondering, we still have meads perking along in the basement. Hopefully we’ll have time to enjoy the fruits of our labors in the coming months.