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Posts from the ‘bees’ Category

Of Swans and Sunflowers and Bee Hives

A family reunion gathering in Northern Wisconsin was a good reason to make a trip to Southwestern Wisconsin and just see things.

Fall color is not happening yet—a few oak trees are turning toasty brown; sumac is still bright green, and there are no walnuts on the ground.

But the chicory is blooming along the roadsides and then there were splashes of bright yellow—-wild sunflowers and black-eyed Susans or daisies. Hard to differentiate from the interior of a vehicle but easily identifialble when stopping to take their photos.

And then there was the family of swans I spied near my farm. We counted and counted using our naked eyeballs=–then I remembered we had a very nice pair of binoculars and so we shared them–and counted again.

And no trip is complete unless we drive by and inspect a nearby apiary. We brought a hive from Texas to Wisconsin, and hope it has enough stores to survive the winter—. this apiary was quite safe from intruders—the mosquitoes and gnats made our inspection much shorter than we had hoped.

I have more to report on our trip—-but I am still sorting through photos.

Waiting with Bated Breath

I am sure everyone is eager to see the results of my batik experiment.

I used one of the tjaps I bought several years ago and was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use. I thought the handle would get hot and I would need a hot pad to hold it—also that one dip in the wax would yield just one print—but I could get four out of each dip. I already knew I had to let the tjap sit in the hot wax for awhile to be hot enough to hold onto the wax and not just have the wax coat the tjap.

Getting the wax out is always a challenge but I put all the fabrics into a large dye pot, add some detergent and boil away for an hour or more—then put it in my washing machine with more detergent and two rinses.

The dye I used was quite old and had been through several seasons of hot and cold—and so I was surprised to see my results.

This is the hemp/cotton blend. This fabric is really nice to work it–it is crisp yet soft.

The next piece is the hemp/silk piece. This is glossy on one side and matte on the other. I haven’t worked with any of it yet but it promises to be equally lovely.

And then here is pure silk.

and finally here is just hemp. This is a coarse weave that raveled deliciously around the edges and took the dye beautifully.

As you may guess, I used some potato mashers as my tjaps on these pieces. Overlapping them is fun too, but I ran out of wax… bees will have to be busy this next spring.

A sticky business


No matter how careful I am, when I finish processing honey frames, every surface is sticky.

For those of you who have never seen honey in its original state but only encounter it in nice jars on the grocery sotre shelf; this is what it looks like.

On the far left is a frame of capped honey. The bees put a lid of wax on each cell containing honey that is sufficiently ‘dried’–amazingly they are so accurate in their assessment–too much water content will lead to mold, too little and it becomes a solid. The frame you see is comb honey which I cut into squares—the easiest to process as it involves a spatula and some containers and a flat surface–the large lipped cookie sheet. The turquoise handle thing has teeth which I use to scrape off the caps of the honey I plan to process into liquid.

I hold the frame up, scrape off the honey and wax into the cake pan, then dump the contents of the cake pan into the sieve/strainer perched on the bucket. There is a honey gate at the bottom used to dispense the honey into jars.

The kitchen towels help to contain the mess—the bees were quite extravagant in their storage efforts–some of the frames were easily two inches thick.

The wax is then cleaned first by melting the wax in the oven; then it is filtered through some cloth. I use a small crock pot I bought for 8 dollars, some screen and some sheer curtain fabric.

If I had an extractor, my process would be different—and I’ve had offers for the use of an extractor—this is quite labor intensive—as it is for the bees. I bottle the honey as this is not a food grade bucket—but I can assure it is clean, washed with hot soapy water at the end and beginning of every honey processing project.

Some honey is put into the refrigerator to crystallize for whipped honey–another highly labor intensive project.


Peas and Lettuce and a Lemon Tree

Being of Midwestern stock and of the rural variety, a garden was a regular part of life. Each January the seed catalogs would appear, brightening up the dull gray, white and black of the outdoors to visions of summer with outdoor activities not associated with loads of extra clothing. We tended to forget the mud season otherwise known as mud season and of seasonal floods with wagers about whether or not Stark’s Sporting store would flood again this year.

Everyone planned their garden about the same way, a row of zinnias (they grew fast) and marigolds (to keep away the rabbits and deer) and then tomatoes and carrots and lettuce and peas and sweet corn and green beans and squash or pumpkins. Maybe one or two experimental vegetables that looked so fun in the catalog

Now on the Gulf Coast of Texas it has taken me awhile to adjust to our four season gardening. Lettuce was planted in December and was slow to sprout but now I have it in abundance. lettuce-m

Peas were planted in January–had to plant twice, the seeds kept coming to the top of the soil. There isn’t enough to make a meal but as garnishes and as dippers for the spinach dip I made the other day, perfect


And then there is the lemon tree


This little tree produced a dozen lemons the first year and we were delighted; the next year triple that and since then so many lemons.


The blossoms this year are plentiful and fill the air with a delightful scent—the bees are working that tree along with the clover—plenty of honey to process in the near future.


Designing one or two things

My mother, like many quilters, had a lot of unfinished projects, starts of projects, sample blocks, partially cut out quilts. I have been working diligently to complete some of these projects, to make something out of those samples and bits and pieces.

This is one of the–four small tulip blocks along with some half square triangles.


then there is a challenge (that I created) in the local fiber art group

This one is inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s use of abstraction to display her emotions


and a new project—bees on flowers. I used beeswax to batik a grunge green; I’ve made the bees—free embroidered on wash-away and a light green sheer; now to do the flowers.


here are the bees in process


and a closeup of the finished bee


A honey of a job

Bees are some of the most fascinating creatures. Although the ant is depicted as industrious, I think honey bees are far more organized and incredibly busy fulfilling their tiny little task in the hive.

Some years ago, I took a class in Asian Art—we studied some of the huge statues in India–imagine your entire life’s work as being one small square on Buddha’s forehead or the right side of his left nostril. Bees fortunately do not think about their ultimate destiny—they just concentrate on the job at hand.

There are lots of amazing details about the life of bees, how many trips they make to make a drop of honey or how much work it is to make the wax that seals the honey and so forth.

From my perspective, harvesting honey is a sticky time-consuming task. I process the frames in my kitchen and no matter how careful I am, everything is sticky when I finish. Like processing fruits and vegetables, it is always hot work and I can understand why there were summer kitchens.comb20honey20processing-m

This year we split hives and so our honey harvest was not so large as it could have been. Bees are now harvesting goldenrod pollen along with nectar to store for the winter ahead. img_3799-mThat yellow glob is pollen headed for storage in the frame—pollen is the equivalent of our steak or pork chop or chicken leg.


If you want to be a beekeeper at your laptop while not having to wear a beesuit in the middle of 90 plus degree weather; take a look at this gallery of photos:


busy20bees-mMy girls were busy last summer; one hive was split six times. Honey harvest was about six gallons along with a modest amount of comb honey.

This year, the girls are already getting busy. Drones have been noted; some drone comb thrown out of one hive and yesterday we watched a bee gathering honey from the ample fields of clover.

Expansion of the apiary means more splits, some queens, and a place to put them. Yesterday we placed some T-posts with rails to place nucs and hives on. I had thought we needed the T-post driver but the ground was so sodden, the posts went in quite easily—and pulled up equally easily when they weren’t quite in the right spot.

Today will be leveling.

Queens in two weeks!setting20up20space20for20more20hives-m

Get Bees, Will Travel

bees20are20home-mWe really wanted to set up a hive or two or more on the farm. I had four hives in Texas but they would have been a real challenge to move—much easier to get a nuc (small hive of 5 frames instead of the usual 8 or 10) and move it to Wisconsin. Some beekeepers move their bees all around the U.S. to pollinate various crops—it should not be a big deal. Right?  So maybe not!

I had previously baked a nuc of bees in our hot Texas sun and worried about traveling with a nuc in the bed of my truck—no-way were they going to ride in the cab with me. Although I did have some friends who took home a hive in their car and had to wear their bee suits all the way home—all 30 miles or so. I had no intention of wearing a bee suit for 18 hours of driving.

My good friend and mentor provided me with a nuc with a nice opening on top—covered with hardware cloth providing plenty of air flow. The doorway was blocked with hardware cloth—lots of air flow—no baked bees.

We put the box in the bed of my truck and I started off.

I stopped to fuel up and noted a bee flying about the bed of my truck. I thought perhaps it had hitched a ride from my friend’s apiary.

I stopped again for fuel and this time there were about a half dozen flying about trying to figure out where they were. I could not see where they were exiting the box but it was quite obvious they were not bees that lingered around the gas station just coming over to make friends with the Texas bees.

So I started throwing a tarp over the top of the box whenever I stopped—hoping they would think it was bed-time and they would stay inside—I’m sure I really messed up their internal clock and they had so many more days and nights than really passed by in ordinary time.

I stopped for the night, threw the tarp over the box and registered at the motel. Did I have any pets? I said I had a box of bees in my truck but they would not be staying in the room with me. The clerk looked surprised and noted that they welcomed pets but maybe not honey bees.

I made it to the farm and unloaded them by the garage.

I felt the box and it felt warm. Bees maintain the internal temperature of the hive at about 93 degrees year round. In the summer, they sit outside the door and on top of box flapping their wings to move air—-and in the winter they huddle together like penguins in the Antarctic.

We pulled the entrance and immediately they flew out.

Did we keep enough bees in that box to maintain or make a hive? Or did I leave a trail of bees behind me?

I worried about those bees last night when a huge thunderstorm passed through—was the covering over the top enough to keep the rain out—or did that covering get knocked off in the wind?

I put my ear to the box and could hear them buzzing—they may have been discussing their plans for the day or trying to figure out just exactly what had happened—going to bed in Texas and waking up in Wisconsin with different flowers and different birds and different landscape and no nearby neighbors.this20is20their20view-m

It seems silly to worry about a group of insects when I have no qualms about squashing cockroaches or dumping soapy water or poison in ant beds—


Baked Bees

Yep–they were baked.

I pulled two frames of brood from my lovely gentle ladies–two frames mostly filled with honey and one drawn comb frame.

I closed the door to allow ventilation–but no escape.

I put it on the picnic table.

I could hear them buzzing around in there–let me out! Please let me out!

Today there was no buzzing–just hundreds of dead bees. I guess the baby bees were baked too.

And then there were the Mean Girls. They were honey bound–never mind they had another box to put honey in–they just kept stuffing it all in one box–like an overflowing closet so full you can’t close the doors or a drawer so full of socks and T-shirts–you can’t close it–of the suitcase you have to sit on to make it close.

I pulled a frame of brood and moved it up–suggesting–looky here girls–Another nursery is available–the honey was all put top-side–how I will ever lift it down because it was a big project with just four frames about 80% full of capped honey.

Then those girls followed me around. I walked and walked; tried to walk around trees and bushes–those are supposed to confuse them. No-one of the many cars passing by stopped to ask if I was all right –thank goodness-those mean girls would have had them for snack and thought nothing of it.

Finally they settled on a nearby magnolia blossom and I was able to go inside and de-suit.

I downed a bottle of water, locked the door, and headed out to the truck—the mean girls met me half-way buzzing around my hair and my hands. I snatched off my glasses–so I wouldn’t look like a really big insect with my sunglasses and quick-stepped to the truck. Somehow they knew that they were not supposed to fly past the gate and I was able to escape.

No photos today–dead bees were not a pretty sight–and those mean girls were more interested in chasing me around than in posing for photos.

Another Buzzy Day

Inspecting bee hives is part of being a responsible beekeeper. Unfortunately the best time of day to accomplish this task is mid-day—a lot of the bees are out gathering nectar and therefore–not at home. I wear a full suit, leather shoes, gloves and come equipped with a lit smoker and a wagon full of boxes and empty frames.

I now have four active hives–the original from a friend who did a removal on an old lady’s house, a hive from my class–the mean girls–gosh they are mean–they follow me around and pop at my gloves and veil—then there are two new hives with Winnie queens–nice and easy going bees.

hive20four-mHive Four was first–the single box was FULL of bees–so added a second story–easy peasy.

Hive Three must be lazy girls as there didn’t seem to be much more done than 10 days ago.

hive20one-mHive One had a lot of bees on the outside–were they thinking of swarming? Not sure–but took two frames of capped brood to put in a nuc (baby Hive) to give that lovely lady queen more room.

The Nuc I had split from Hive 2 was a no-go–and I can’t say I was sorry–that queen and her bevy of girls are just plain mean. So I put the two frames of capped brood in, closed the door allowing ventilation and put it on the picnic table.

Then I gathered up my courage and ventured into Hive Two. It has two deep boxes which are supposed to be the brood chambers-where all the eggs and baby bees are—but those mean girls were storing honey in there–lots and lots of honey–but only one frame was capped. Took that frame out, replaced with an empty frame.

Those mean girls were not happy I stole their honey–I had to walk around the yard for about fifteen minutes in my beesuit with them popping me periodically–mostly on my gloves. I’m sure the passing cars and trucks wondered what was going on.

Then I came home, processed that cut-comb into boxes–it’s easier to do when everything is warm. Also managed to strain some honey into the honey bucket. There is wax to be processed using the cute little crockpot–and maybe some batiking to happen next weekend.

All of this sounds quite technical–and no doubt indicates some of my level of understanding of how hives work–and probably more than anyone really wants to know about bees.

However, I find them infinitely fascinating–to watch, to see the various personalities of each hive. And there’s just something wonderful about fresh bread topped with fresh cut-comb honey.