Farm Friends

The Vanishing Of The Bees

Signs of a healthy hive: entrance activity and full pollen baskets.

Signs of a healthy hive: entrance activity and full pollen baskets.

We've experienced another beekeeping first on on the farm. We lost our first hive. Honestly, it has taken me some time to process. I've gone through all kinds of emotions... shock, sadness, frustration, confusion, and finally acceptance. I haven't had the words to really write about it because before I arrived at "acceptance," I felt like sharing the news meant I had a beekeeping fail. Silly I know. 

Here's the thing... I always knew that all beekeepers lose bees at some point. I knew that the rates of hive losses are high across the nation. The problem is I am a perfectionist and a major competitor. What do you mean one hive of our bees left? I love them! They can't leave!

After grappling with the variety of emotions I've felt since we discovered one of our hives left, I started reflecting more on the weeks leading up to our discovery.  Did I see bees activity at the entry of the hive? YES. I thought for sure the high activity in February meant that the girls had survived the winter and that they were busy taking cleansing flights and preparing for the new foraging season. Did I stop to check for pollen going into the hive? NO. There wasn't anything blooming at that point of the year, so I wasn't concerned about that. Pollen going into the hive can be an indicator that there are babies to feed in the hive. February is pretty early for any major activity with the queen and new brood. Did I take time to inspect frames to see if the queen was laying and that honey supplies were enough to make it through to foraging season?  The weather didn't lend itself to a warm enough, wind free day to inspect. Did the hive have a funny smell to it? NO. HMMMMM.... 

Eric and I did a full inspection on the hive during the first few weeks in March. We announced ourselves to the ladies buzzing about and began looking at frames. Right away we noticed lots of honey remained. Good news... the girls didn't need all that we left and there might be some for us to harvest. We kept going across the frames...empty frame, empty frame, empty frame. Where were they? I quickly opened the screened bottom board on our hive and there weren't any bees there. During a normal inspection there are a few dead bees on the bottom board. There weren't any. Where were they? Eric and I just looked at each other. Who were these bees flying around us? 

The reality hit me like a freight train. These weren't my girls buzzing my head as we inspected. These were ROBBER BEES. Our hive was being robbed and our very first rescue swarm had picked up and left. When did they go? Why did they go? 

 

Tiny puncture holes in these capped cells are from varroa mites leaving the cells. All hives have varroa mites. The tiny white dots are varroa scat. The shiny cells toward the top in the image are unfinished honey from last season. There are also tiny pieces of crystallized honey. 

Tiny puncture holes in these capped cells are from varroa mites leaving the cells. All hives have varroa mites. The tiny white dots are varroa scat. The shiny cells toward the top in the image are unfinished honey from last season. There are also tiny pieces of crystallized honey. 

More reflecting, more considering. No bees on the bottom board, no bees inside. Evidence of varroa mites, but not lots of evidence. No varroa mites to count on my mite board. Plently of left over honey, so starvation wasn't an option. What happened? 

We removed the remaining capped honey frames and sealed up the hive. As we were preparing to leave and my confusion was mounting, I decided to look on the bottom side of our hive. As I leaned over, I felt a combination of shock and "ah-ha!" As you know, we use a long bodied style hive coined a Valhalla hive. It allows me to work with the bees with my back limitations. No heavy lifting, easy to inspect, bee friendly, and so very beautiful. As I looked at the bottom of the hive, I could see that the bottom slider drawers had not been completely closed and were not flush with the back wall. The poor bees had robbers with complete free reign to their hive and honey stores! They couldn't protect themselves because of the large opening I had inadvertently left! Was that why they left? 

There are two drawers on either side of the hive. The top drawer has a screened bottom board for the bees to walk across. The second drawer is a mite count board. It is white and helps to quickly spot mites and do a count during inspections. The mites do not travel back up through the screened bottom board. 

There are two drawers on either side of the hive. The top drawer has a screened bottom board for the bees to walk across. The second drawer is a mite count board. It is white and helps to quickly spot mites and do a count during inspections. The mites do not travel back up through the screened bottom board. 

We brought the hive into the shop and Eric made a few modifications to the drawers to prevent that from happening again. We cleaned off the built up propolis (bee glue) that the bees had covered the drawer slides with. In the future I will be very intentional to keep excess propolis off the drawers. A once thriving, busy, strong hive was now reduced to an empty cavity. Did my bees abscond? Was this colony collapse? 

I've been doing some reading online since all of this happened, and I have read countless stories about beekeepers losing their bees. As my beekeeping friend says, "you want to bee a bee keeper, not a bee buyer!" So many new beekeepers try their hand at beekeeping, purchase a bee package, and end up losing their bees for one reason or another. If you try again, you truly have to call yourself a bee buyer rather than a beekeeper. The honesty of that statement just makes me giggle. 

Little Emmett, my mentor and Valhalla hive designer, and our first hive. 

Little Emmett, my mentor and Valhalla hive designer, and our first hive. 

I haven't ever planned to purchase bees for many reasons and I don't plan on purchasing one to replace our empty hive. Not only is it late in the season to find a honey bee supplier, I want to have bees adept to living in Central Oregon. I don't want exhausted and unhealthy bees from a supplier out of state. That means honey bees native to our area. Honey bees aren't actually native at all, but I want to keep bees that have adapted to our climate, winters, and weather patterns. For me, I can get these type of bees two ways: capturing a swarm, or splitting one of my other hives. I am secretly hoping to do both this year!

Our first swarm catch on our property. Beeatrice and crew landed in our vegetable garden.

Our first swarm catch on our property. Beeatrice and crew landed in our vegetable garden.

Eleanor and Eric celebrating our swarm catch last spring.

Eleanor and Eric celebrating our swarm catch last spring.

Like I mentioned before, I've experienced all sorts of emotions related to losing our first hive. The biggest emotion honestly has been feeling sad. I've decided to consider this a true learning experience rather than focus on the sad aspects. I choose to believe that maybe some lucky beekeeper in Central Oregon discovered a swarm a month or so ago and Flora has settled into a new hive with good caretakers. I also choose to be humbled by the reality felt by so many beekeepers who lose hives. Remembering that nature is always ultimately in control sits much better in my heart. Honey bees are a creature worthy of our utmost respect and no matter how much we believe we can offer them and tame them, they go as they choose. I won't ever know for sure why they chose to leave, but I continue to appreciate the beauty of our precious honey bees. 

Souper Sunday

It's that day again friends... Sunday. For those of you who work all week, this day sometimes feels like "Shmonday" a.k.a. "I feel stress because the work week is staring me right in the face." I've got to be honest, each Sunday I feel the anxiety levels rise. My stress level has decreased a bit over the years however, thanks to a few sneaky tricks. I've replaced "Shmonday" with what I like to call Souper Sunday.

What is Souper Sunday? Well, it is the day I pretty much cook our meals for the entire week. That's right friends; I cook enough food to make us through the week. Crazy? Maybe. Stay with me people.

How does it work? Well... lazy coffee drinking Saturday mornings equal pulling up my favorite Pinterest pins and checking what we have in the freezer. This is followed by an intense amount of defrosting and come Sunday morning, the Klann kitchen is a cooking warzone. I typically make two crock pot meals, quick weekday grab and go breakfast, and something for Sunday dinner.

Tortilla Soup and all the fixings.

Tortilla Soup and all the fixings.

If you've lived on a farm (or are a parent for that matter), you know that there are constant projects and mouths to feed on the weekend. This means time is of the essence. By cooking for a few hours on what used to be stressful "Shmonday," those projects are still possible. By dedicating some forward thinking and a few hours of cooking time, hungry mouths will have something delicious to dig into after a long day of chores. Am I convincing or what?

There are a few tricks I would like to also share about Souper Sunday and here are some pictures to help illustrate:

1. Have precut vegetables on hand. I keep a gallon freezer bag full of veggies on hand in the freezer for Souper Sunday. My bag has carrots, celery, and onion ready to go.

2. Process your vegetables as you buy them. I am a firm believer in shaving time off tasks as much as possible. Exhibit A: I purchased a large package of celery from Costco and I make sure to clean and cut all of it during one session. We have veggies to eat in the fridge, veggies for the meal I am cooking on that day, and divided packages of veggies for another day. This not only saves me time later, I only have to wash these dishes ONE time.

Lunch for the week- leftover minestrone and four days of cabbage soup.

Lunch for the week- leftover minestrone and four days of cabbage soup.

3. Serve up lunch. Each week I prepackage my lunches in mason jars. I like mason jars for Souper Sunday soup because they don't leak. I love being able to pack my lunch quickly in the morning, and making lunches each week saves our family lots of money.

Even the hens win on Souper Sunday. Our well deserving, super egg laying, spoiled girls were served warmed up leftovers this morning. Happy hens = yummy eggs.

Think about making Souper Sunday a tradition at your house, I think you will be glad you did. By cooking ahead, I can enjoy a few hours the day outside with our feathered and furry friends. "Shmonday" no longer feels so stressful, and I like the sound of Souper Sunday better!

 Here are a few updates from the Honey Bee Haven:

Today's projects include checking on my honey bee girls, playing on the teeter-totter with the goats, and thinking about which seeds to start in the greenhouse. Lots to do, but it's possible with Souper Sunday.

Seed Saving at Prineville Honey Bee Haven

Heritage Marigold Seeds

Heritage Marigold Seeds

Saying goodbye to something that you love can be painful. Honestly, I try to avoid it as much as possible. Because I love all that lives and grows here on the farm, my favorite flowers are no exception to the, "do not say goodbye category."

Enter in...seed saving. Yes, I find great joy in saving seeds from my favorite flowers, vegetables, and fruits on the farm. It takes some time and effort, but like I said... I don't like saying goodbye. 

Jarrahdale/Carving Pumpkin cross 2015.

Jarrahdale/Carving Pumpkin cross 2015.

Exhibit A: This beautiful pumpkin grew on the farm this last season. Thanks to our sweet honey bees, it was a cross pollination success. It appears that a honey bee visited the flower of a Jarrahdale pumpkin and then came over to see a carving pumpkin flower. The results- this gorgeous specimen. I saved some seeds from it of course, hoping next year's pollination will deliver a close repeat offender. I know that I can't bank on it because of pollination variables, but I will be hopeful. 

We all know that pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes. The inside, the outside, the seeds, the smell, all can vary pumpkin to pumpkin. Some smell like freshly peeled cucumber when you open them. Others smell like things I'd rather not mention. The color range is so vast with pumpkins, and the purpose is so varied as well. We grow pumpkins for their colors and pretty autumn decor. We also grow pumpkins for Halloween carving and seed roasting. The most useful pumpkins we grow however, are the pie pumpkins. Having fresh pumpkin on hand for recipes is quite useful year round. 

Some pumpkin varieties have very "stringy" insides and limited seeds.

Some pumpkin varieties have very "stringy" insides and limited seeds.

To save the seeds from a pumpkin is a pretty straight forward task. Cut the pumpkin open and remove all of the seeds you hope to keep. 

Seven seed varieties for next year's planting.

Seven seed varieties for next year's planting.

Seeds drying for several days on the counter. 

Seeds drying for several days on the counter. 

Sorting seeds

Sorting seeds

Once the seeds have been cleaned and sorted, they need to sit out and dry for several days. The moisture must be out of the seeds before they are stored over the winter. It is important to remove any underdeveloped seeds (top), broken seeds (right), and to keep only the fully developed seeds. 

After the seeds are dried, we store them in the refrigerator until spring. This process is called "stratification," and it mimics nature's winter. 

Seeds will be packaged in envelopes and labeled according to contents. Seeds will be available in the spring of 2016.

Seeds will be packaged in envelopes and labeled according to contents. Seeds will be available in the spring of 2016.

Luna, Patch and Mary eager for pumpkin treats.

Luna, Patch and Mary eager for pumpkin treats.

Seed saving wouldn't be complete around here if the rest of the family didn't get in on it. Left over pumpkin found its way into the pasture for the cows, the goat pen, and the chicken coop. Pumpkin for everyone! 

Calendula seeds for next year headed to the refrigerator. The bees love these in the fall.

Calendula seeds for next year headed to the refrigerator. The bees love these in the fall.

Sunflowers- a honey bee favorite.

Sunflowers- a honey bee favorite.

Heritage marigolds in bloom.

Heritage marigolds in bloom.

Colorful reminders like these pictures get us through these cold winter days. Knowing we will see these beautiful flowers again next season makes the effort to save the seeds worth it! Klann farm will have seeds come spring 2016. If you are interested in planting similar flowers like the ones found at Prineville Honey Bee Haven, be sure to check back with us. 

Photo credit Andy Tullis- Bend Bulletin

Photo credit Andy Tullis- Bend Bulletin

Remembering My Farm Dog Ida Mae

Ida Mae circa 2004

Ida Mae circa 2004

I lost my girl today after twelve years. Exactly twelve years ago TO THE DAY I picked up a plump, fuzzy little yellow lab from the breeder. I picked her from a litter of at least 10 puppies and couldn't wait to bring her home. I named her Ida Mae and I lost her today.

My heart is simply aching right now. I can't eat, I can't sleep.  Part of me feels like if I just sit and write for a bit, perhaps I might feel more than numbness and disbelief. Please feel free to stop reading now. I understand and won't think less of you. If you knew Ida Mae  though, I just need to celebrate her and work through this in a story. Feel free to listen.

Ida adjusting to her new home at the cottage with Sadie the cat and I.

Ida adjusting to her new home at the cottage with Sadie the cat and I.

The thing about losing Ida today is that I didn't just lose my dog. She has been my confidant for the past twelve years. I've called her my "first born" on more than one occasion. Ida was with me for some of the hardest times of my life and most certainly for some the best times. She was a driving buddy, a snuggle machine, an alarm clock, an exercise companion, a ring bearer in our wedding and a watch dog enamored with our children. She accepted every role we asked of her and she did so with such dedication and voracious love. 

We had a good last day with Ida yesterday here on the farm. She showed no signs of preparing to leave us. She swam in the pond, she barked at the kids in her self imposed role as lifeguard, she ate her treat before bed and she was given her daily dose of affection and attention. It was a good day.

Today I watched my amazing husband dig her grave after our little family said goodbye to her at the vet. Ida had acute onset pneumonia that she may or may not have recovered from. I couldn't live with the idea of her hurting and treatment wasn't promising. Listening to her labored breathing this morning told me that the day had arrived to make one of life's most difficult choices. I held her when she went and I told how much I loved her. For those of you who know me, I would have given that dog a kidney if she needed it. My love for her is fierce.

Ida rests next to the pond here on our farm. She has a front porch view of her favorite swimming hole where she can keep one eye on the kids she protected so tenderly. There are many memories of her in that pond and I couldn't imagine a better place to sit and "be" with her. 

Ida Mae the official ring bearer on our wedding day July 22, 2006. 

Ida Mae the official ring bearer on our wedding day July 22, 2006. 

Cheers to my sweet girl for all the truly wonderful memories I hold tight. I am proud to say that not a single day went by without telling her I loved her and I know she will always be with me. Rest in peace Ida Mae. I love you to the moon and back.