The birds and the bees

A backyard snapshot from a few days ago…

The hens were thrilled to get some fresh wheat straw to scratch around in (lots of wheat left in those hulls!) and the bees were taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to clear dead bees from the hive entrance (I try to help them with this bit of housecleaning) and go out for their “cleansing flights” (bees, unless they are really sick, will not soil their hive, but rather wait for warmer or clear days in the winter to fly out for short trips). I am a little bit worried about our hive- they’re our first bees, and while we got a healthy nuc (a mini-colony with several established frames with honey, brood, worker bees, and of course a queen) of locally raised bees from one of the IL bee inspectors, they got a late start and don’t seem to be a terribly strong colony. I suspect that some may have swarmed during a stretch of really hot weather this summer but I’m not sure… we tried feeding them to build up their numbers and help them draw out comb, but they didn’t seem that interested in the sugar syrup, even when I made it with chamomile tea as an older Eastern European beekeeper suggested to me)- I only ever saw wasps and ants at the feeder so stopped filling it… or in the bee patties (Bee-Pro and sugar syrup) we put in their hive a couple times towards the end of the season. I’m not impressed with the Bee-Pro, as our bees seemed to ignore it altogether… though maybe they only snacked while we weren’t looking.

We did not do any treatments for mites (nor did we notice any), other than having a small hive beetle bottom-board trap lined with veg. oil as a preventative measure, which should have helped with control (in theory). I think I will give them a powdered sugar dusting in the early spring (unless I find out or am told that this would be a bad idea). Thanks to a presenter at the Garfield Park Conservatory’s annual beekeeping symposium this fall, I now have a recipe for homemade “honey-b healthy”-type patties utilizing a variety of natural essential oils (many of which I already have for soapmaking). It’s a simple recipe, but has lot of ingredients that are expensive if you buy them in small quantities… email me if you’re interested in getting some pre-made patties, as I’ll probably make up a big batch to freeze this spring and use as needed a couple times during the season!

We’re keeping our fingers crossed that they weather the winter well enough to thrive this season- it was definitely encouraging to see a few bees coming and going this week… I was starting to worry we’d lost them already, as I haven’t seen any live bees in awhile! I haven’t wanted to chill or stress them by opening up their hive, and figure it can’t do anything good for them at this point at any rate. We’ll see… I’ll be really sad but will start over if this colony doesn’t make it- I really like having them around… not to mention the hoped-for honey and maybe wax if they do well this year.

Coming soon: make your own soymilk and tofu (and a recipe for “cheatloaf”, vegan meatloaf or “soysage” that uses up the leftover bean pulp… no waste!), a how-to post with pictures and instructions… I’d been meaning to try this for well, years, and can’t believe I didn’t do this when I was a vegetarian- it was really easy! Man, I could have saved so much money back then… better late than never, and tofu is still delicious. Till then, cheers!

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