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Raw Honey – Natural Beekeeping: 2017 Season Update

A Brief History of Our Beekeeping Experience

With a vision of making raw honey for our own consumption, we began beekeeping in the spring of 2014; so far, it has been the proverbial “tough row to hoe.”

raw honey definition

The Warré hive type was chosen, a top bar hive, without the frames and foundation typical of the Langstroth hive.  The Warré is a hive used in natural beekeeping circles, and that’s where we wanted to be.  It has its advantages and disadvantages to be sure.  An advantage is that the hives are relatively easy and inexpensive to build.  This was detailed in two earlier posts, WARRÉ BEE HIVE CONSTRUCTION – PART I and WARRÉ BEE HIVE CONSTRUCTION – PART II.  I have only made three modications in contravention of Warré’s original design.  In the spring of 2016 I ventilated the “quilts” with two 1 inch holes.  And, this spring, I modified my hive floors to include a screened bottom board, and  raised the hives from the ground about 18 inches.

The first year installation of new bee packages did not go so well, and feeding the new colonies also did not go well.  Frankly, I made of mess of things.  You can read all about it in a post I made that spring of 2014, LATE SPRING UPDATE FROM THE HOMESTEAD, PART I.  You can find all of our posts regarding the making of local honey and beekeeping here.  Since that first spring we have made improvement to the process and equipment year by year, and this spring we harvested our first raw honey, put up by the bees in 2016. Read more

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Warré Bee Hive Construction – Part II

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It is a rainy and cool fall day, in the middle of a week predicted to be rainy and cool, which has the benefit of finally bringing me back around to Part II of two-part series on building a Warré bee hive.  It is hard to believe that I wrote Warré Beehive Construction – Part I over two and a half years ago; I am not proud of that fact!

We started Primal Woods, LLC this year, and as part of the “Sugarers” subsidiary, of course honey is a part.  The plan is in place to double the number of hives each year until we have at least 64.  Even at a relatively modest 25 lbs of honey per hive per year, that would add up to 1,600 lbs of honey per year.  Having said that, with all of the various pressures that honeybees are under, from pesticides in particular, it is possible that their production might be cut in half, or more.  For now though, 64 hives seems like an aggressive target.  Inside of that number, the plan is to double each year until we get to 64, so this year that meant building an additional two hives; it will be four more in 2017, eight in 2018, and so on. Read more

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Of Birds, Bees and Apple Trees

It has been an active spring season on the homestead, and this post is the resulting “grab bag” of topics.  Last year I had made a commitment to myself to put up a couple of nest boxes, in hopes of convincing a pair of tree nesting ducks to stay, as opposed to passing through on migration as they did last year.  Perhaps it was a bit too late, but I did in fact build and install two nest boxes.

Everything I purchased for the project is pictured (L); 12 feet of 1 in. x 10 in. cedar board, cut in half at the lumber yard, a roll 25 foot roll of 2 foot wide aluminum flashing, and a box of 50 stainless steel deck screws; the instructions are from Ducks Unlimited.  In the second picture (R) the boards have been cut to length using the Skillsaw.  Not pictured are a few roofing nails for attaching the flashing to the tree, two big nails for mounting the box, and some 1/2 in. hardware cloth, all of which I had on hand.

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Beekeeping: A Short, Cautionary Tale, From a Beginner

In recent weeks I have thought of the need to add a 5th box to the bee hive; I have been seeing many bees congregating at the hive entrance, and was worrying that they might have expanded to fill the available volume, and bee looking to swarm.  Since Nathan was around as an able assistant, having helped me to add the 3rd and 4th boxes back in June, the time to add the 5th box had come. After adding the 3rd and 4th boxes, I summarized the event in a blog post by stating, “The process of adding the boxes went more smoothly than I probably had any right to expect; it was executed without incident.”  As it turns out, I indeed did not have any right to expect that it would go so smoothly.
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The (Early) Education of a Homesteader

I have heard several questions along the lines of, “how did you learn how to do that,” “where did you learn to do that,” “when did you learn to do that,” or “did you grow up on a farm,” and so on.  The short answers to the “where and how” questions are, between the covers of books, on YouTube, or by trawling the internet, and by asking folks who know more than I do, either in person or in on-line forums.  The answer to the “when” question is, recently, in most instances.  And to the final question, the answer is “no.”

In fact, in my inaugural post I stated:  “I also realized that what I do for money, provides directly for precisely none of my or my family’s needs, in fact I am quite practiced in doing nothing that can be bartered for anything, except for money.  This last piece of the puzzle is tantamount to having one’s “man card” revoked, or at least it was in my opinion.  Until 1995 I had never had a vehicle in a repair shop, I had never had a maintenance man of any sort in a home I owned, I had never paid anyone to mow my lawn, I was a fairly proficient welder with oxygen and acetylene, and could recharge my air conditioner properly with Freon, I had fairly recent memories of successfully hunting and fishing, and if I dug deeply enough, trapping.  Until only recently though, I had done none of that for the better part of 20 years.  And for food that is grown from the earth, I was almost completely blind to its sources; I didn’t know that broccoli was a seed head, or that Brussels sprouts were a bud and the plant a cultivar of the cabbage group, and worse.”

So in short, my ignorance, and lack of skills, or at least a lack of recently practiced skills, were key to my decision to homestead.
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Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part III, Beekeeping

The initial bee install took place the weekend of 5 April 2014, and I added a box to the hive the weekend of 12 April, as documented in the post, “Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part I,” dated 23 May 2014.  I checked on the bees regularly, and there was plenty of activity, with bees coming and going, and the bees were carrying in loads of pollen from their foraging activities.  The hive appeared to be very healthy.  I knew that I should be adding more boxes to the hive, and as the weeks went by I became more and more anxious that the colony might swarm because there was insufficient space in the hive for the growing colony.  Finally, adding the boxes rose to the top of my work list, and coincidentally Nathan was available to help me in the process.

Nathan (L) and I suiting up, inactive hive box after step 1 just to my right in the background

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Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part II

By mid-April, spring was in full swing, and I began to think again of working in the woods.  The cleared area around the house, in the shape of an egg in profile, with the fat end uphill and to the south and the small end to the north reaching to the lake, the yard if you will, totals between 2.5 and 3 acres.  Surrounded by old-growth trees, American Beech, Sugar Maple, and Tuliptree dominate, as well as some more recent introductions, 20 to 25 crab apples, and several willows closer to water’s edge.  It seems the forest would overtake the yard in just a few short years were the property to be abandoned.  Occasionally, it adds up over time, trees would fall, or branches would break off and fall into the yard, for a variety of reasons.  Since none of the woods was being put to directly productive use, the idea seemed to be to make the “problem” go away; the result of clean-up of the dead fall being large piles, 3 to 4 feet high, of brush and larger branches and main stems having been dragged just into the forest, and surrounding the clearing more or less completely, anywhere from at the yard’s edge to 20 feet into the forest.  I have made it a mission to deal with the piles more effectively.  Specifically, anything that is dry and 1 to 3 inches in diameter is used as stick fuel, green and 3 inches and less in diameter is chipped for use as mulch or on pathways, 3 to 4 inches in diameter and larger is bucked and split for firewood.  Odd-shaped pieces in the larger diameters are set aside for use in the fire pit, wood too rotted for use as fuel is set aside for use in Hügelkultur.  Virtually all of the wood can be reused in one form or another; waste not, want not.

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Late Spring Update from the Homestead, Part I

It has been almost 8 weeks since I made a post, and I offer my humblest apologies; really, there has been little to write home about.  Well okay, perhaps, just maybe, that is a not entirely true statement.  Actually, the homestead has been a veritable hive of activity, in fact our life has been very busy over the past several weeks, and that level of activity seems likely to continue into mid-June.  And, it is wearing on me a bit that I have two blog posts to complete, “Warré Bee Hive Construction – Part II,” and “Winter 2013/2014: Lessons in Hardening Homestead Electrical, Potable Water, and Heating Systems.”  I will get to those eventually, promise.

Meanwhile, I will start where I left off, at the last post containing

homestead content, which was in late March, 26 March to be precise.  The weekend of 29 March offered the opportunity to evaporate yet more sap to the state of delicious maple syrup.  The yield was 16 cups of syrup.  While we stopped collecting sap on the 6th of April because temperatures were routinely staying above the freezing mark, and because sap had largely ceased flowing as a result, the business of evaporation continued through the weekend of April 12th; at that point there was no more snow to maintain the sap for extended periods of time without refrigeration.  In fact, we still have about 30 gallons of sap in the chest freezer awaiting processing.  We learned a great deal about maple sugaring this season, and I hope to be able to expand the operation significantly next year.  Our first season was great fun, and allowed us to connect with so many people while engaging in such a traditionally American endeavor; we will treasure the memories. Read more

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Warré Bee Hive Construction – Part I

From relatively early in the process of planning for greater self-sufficiency, it became clear that honey bees would be would be an important part of the design, and implemented early.  Of course the honey harvest is eagerly anticipated, but their service as pollinators cannot be overrated; according to EcoNews,[1], “Honey bees—wild and domestic—perform about 80 percent of all pollination worldwide. A single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day. Grains are primarily pollinated by the wind, but the best and healthiest food—fruits, nuts and vegetables—are pollinated by bees. Seventy out of the top 100 human food crops, which supply about 90 percent of the world’s nutrition, are pollinated by bees.”  The EcoNews article claims an estimate higher than most I have read; nevertheless it seems inarguable that the impact is significant.  Another key reason for early implementation, even before we might be permanently on-site, is that bees are relatively low maintenance.  Depending on the type of hive employed, and whether or not the beekeeper chooses to feed and medicate the bees, only a few visits to the hives may be necessary each year.  As a general rule, we intend to let our bees fend for themselves, save for a feeding upon initial installation of the colonies this spring; a sole harvest would be made in late August or early September each year.

This is a photo of our first Warré
hive almost ready for exterior finish

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