Where'd the Sun Go?

I’ve got no honey to harvest, and I don’t want to keep bugging the bees. I want to leave them alone to do whatever they do. So, I decided to harvest some wax.

A few weeks ago I needed some wax, so I melted down some of the extra foundation I have; with the leftover wax, I made some awesome lip balm: melted beeswax, almond oil, and a little bit of vanilla. I love it! I keep it in a little pan in the kitchen, and I dip into it whenever I want (Deb’s ready to get the pan out of the kitchen, though). I plan to buy some of those lip-balm tubes and fill them with my concoction.

So, here are pictures of my wax preparations (thanks to instructions from Linda over at Linda’s Bees).

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Loads of wax saved from my several frames of honey (this stuff smells so wonderful. I wish you could smell it, Reader).

A Styrofoam cooler and a piece of glass cut to fit as a lid:

A plastic container with about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom and covered with a doubled-up piece of paper towel.

The container goes into the foil-lined cooler, and the wax piles on top of the taut paper towel.

The glass goes on top, and the whole contraption goes out into the sun to heat up for the day.

Of course, the minute I set this thing in the garden, the sun disappeared. I’ll let you know how it works.

Making Swarm Lure

Recipe for Swarm Lure

Those bee colonies that swarm are strong, and I want strong bees. I hated that one of my hives died last year…the hive that died was always kind of slow compared to the Amazons (which I got as a result of a swarm from Chris’s hive). It makes sense that it you’ve got strong colonies, you’d want to propogate them. And there are several ways to do that, though I haven’t done it yet.

Last night I mixed up a batch of swarm lure—I have to give credit to Linda over at Linda’s Bees. She posted this recipe several years ago.

I mixed 1/4 cup olive oil, a wad of beeswax (1/2 of a sheet of foundation), and about 20 drops of lemongrass oil. I heated the mixture together in a glass measuring cup that I placed in a pan of boiling water. Once it was all melted together, I poured it into a small foil bread mold we had in the cabinet. It solidified into a smearable paste in about 5 minutes. I wish I’d had a nice little jar with a lid, but all the jars I have are too deep to keep shoving my hands into.

Today I’ll head out to an unused brood box I’ve set up near my hives and smear it with this swarm lure. It’s supposed to attract bees…apparently the lemongrass oil smells like the queen pheremone; the oil and wax keep the lemongrass oil from dissipating and make the mixture workable.

In the swarm-lure box are 10 frames with beeswax foundation (I’m supposed to have some frames of drawn comb in there, too, but I don’t have any. All my combs are with the bees), so once the scout bees from a swarm come to check out the smell in my brood box, they should find a nice home in a good neighborhood all ready for them to move into.

Later today, I plan to call the police and fire departments in my area and add my name to their swarm capture list…then, if anyone calls to report a swarm of bees, I’m on the list of people who will go and capture it. It’s a great way to increase the number of robust bees.

Making Swarm Lure
Liquid Swarm Lure
Solidified Swarm Lure

If I Keep Doing What I'm Doing, I'll Keep Getting What I'm Getting

Did I tell you I’ve decided to read “Linda’s Bees” blog from beginning to end. Every single entry for 4 or 5 years. And she posts a lot. Well, I skip those entries that contain pictures of flowers. Sure, I like flowers. But, frankly, I hate pictures of flowers. They bore me. Fortunately—and this is why I love her blog—Linda almost always writes about bees. And her photographs are extremely helpful. I’m inspired.

So, my parents arrive for a 5-day visit today, and I know they’re dying to participate in some way in the beekeeping. I’ll do hive inspections with them, and that can be quite thrilling if you’ve never been that close to that many working bees. But I think we’ll also try our hand at harvesting a few frames of honey. This will be my first honey harvest, and now that I’ve decided to go the “crush and strain” route, it should be quite manageable to do with the parents here.

(The Muth jars have arrived. Love them. Perfect for gifts to the neighbors. Good timing, too, because some of my neighbors have pools and hot tubs, and when it gets hot the bees head straight to water. Uh oh. I hope the bees love the skanky water in our birdbath more than they love my neighbors’ crystal-clear pools…I know the mosquitoes certainly prefer life over here.)

I’ve decided to grow in the less-is-more direction, so I’m planning to let the bees build their next comb without using foundation in the frames. I’m becoming convinced that using foundation which could have been exposed to the pesticides and chemicals some beekeepers use to control pests in the hives may be one reason bees and their queens are increasingly becoming weaker (oh, if only they were all as strong as my Amazon girls).

But what am I supposed to do with the 100 sheets of super-thin foundation I just ordered from Walter Kelly? Melt it for lip balm and hand lotion? Hell, I don’t know. I know that ever since Deb tried to walk right through the closed screen, our sliding door is sticking… it’s out of whack. Maybe I can rub some foundation on the little runners and see if I can’t smooth it up.

To melt that stuff, though, I’m going to need a cheap double boiler. I can’t tell you how I hate to shop.

They've Got What I Want

You know that feeling you get when you’re on to something? When your intuition tells you this is something really important? Well, I’ve got it.

I’ve been almost obsessed with reading Linda’s Bees. I’m determined to read the entire thing from beginning to end…over 700 entries at this point. This is Linda’s fourth year of keeping bees, and she’s got what I want…I can’t tell you how far she’s come in her four years from novice to Master Beekeeper. Frankly, I have little interest in being certified a Master Beekeeper, but I’d like the knowledge that comes with it.

Anyway, Linda has kept a wonderful blog devoted to her beekeeping experiences, and I’ve got to say that I’m learning more from her almost-daily log than I’ve learned in all books I’ve read. And Linda turned me on to Michael Bush, whose website has me a bit unnerved—I think his philosophy is spot on. I’m unnerved because I have a feeling I’ll be following his lead. Which means changing some things. But it also means going with my gut about beekeeping. I’ve got a good, sound gut, too.

Anyway, over at Not Alice, I post an occasional picture; but Linda posts photographs of all of her beekeeping experiences, and when it comes to this technical stuff, the photographs really help. For Not Alice, I simply use pictures from my iPhone, but the quality is comparatively poor (because I have an earlier version of the iPhone). So, I’ll have to consider taking my better digital camera with me out into the bee yard when I go.

All of this is to say, “Heads up.” I hope to make TwoHoneys a more vibrant place to visit.

Simplify

I’ve been doing a shitty job of keeping TwoHoneys updated. You’d think nothing is going on with the bees. But a lot is going on out there! And a lot is going on regarding my learning curve, Reader. It’s skyrocketing.

You know that we have one established hive; it’s the swarm hive we captured a year ago from my friend Chris and named Amazons. One other hive, a hive that originated from a package of bees we ordered, died over the winter.  This year, we installed two more packages of bees in their own hives, and those bees should do nothing but build comb and raise brood and store enough honey with which they’ll depend on to survive the winter. Those hives are named Tomboys and Girls of Summer.

The Ohio River Valley is in the thick of a honey flow, and I’ve installed three shallow supers on Amazons in which they are building beautiful comb and storing glorious-looking honey. This is the honey we’ll harvest and eat and give as gifts.

Harvesting honey, however, usually requires a honey extractor—which is an expensive piece of spinning equipment. And, as you know, I usually lean toward less equipment…I like to make and bake bread using only my hands and a cookie sheet. I’m leaning that way more and more with the bees.

So, I’ve been mulling over this extractor thing. Do I want to spend about $500 on a piece of equipment I will seldom use? Should I rent one? If I rent one, I’d have to plan when I want to extract honey, then I’ll have to drive a long way to get the extractor, and then I have to clean the thing and return it. I hate that idea. I could borrow an extractor from my friend Christy, but for some reason I hate to borrow stuff like that. And I’d still have to plan when I want to harvest, drive to get the extractor, clean it, return it, and think of some nice way to repay her, etc.

My parents are visiting us soon, and I know they are freaking excited to have some honey. And I want them to enjoy a little bit of it at the time of their visit without all the fuss of an extractor and without my having to spend a lot of time harvesting a big load of honey. It’s a bit too early to do a full-blown harvest. I want to take only a frame or two (or three or four) and get some honey from them and leave the rest alone. So, I’ve been reading and thinking.

Which brought me to a couple of quiet websites that briefly mention a honey-harvesting method called “crush and strain.” I thought, “WHAT?! I’m not about to crush all that honeycomb those bees have worked so damned hard to build because they’ll just have to do it all over again, and I’m not going to make them work their brains out for nothing.” Oh, Reader, I am sooo wrong about so many things. The more I learn, the more sense I get.

Thanks to this video over at Linda’s Bees, I have now decided to crush and strain all of our honey…some when the parents visit and the rest whenever the heck I’m ready.

No fancy, expensive, loud equipment for us. It doesn’t seem natural. I’m going rogue.