July 30, 2012

2 More Woodchucks, 2 New Skunks

 Varmints in our traps are like Christmas in the summer. Every morning, Alden and I come downstairs to look out the kitchen window and see what we have caught. Since the last reportage, we've caught two groundhogs and two baby skunks.

July 15, 2012

First Honey Harvest

We harvested our first batch of honey this weekend (only a year and 3 months in the making)!  Our bee books and google tell us that there are three methods of removing bees from honey frames; 1) a fume board, which drives them out of the top box into the deeper supers, 2) an escape board, which uses mesh and a maze-like set up to allow bees to move down into the deeper boxes while preventing them from coming back up and 3) taking out the frames one at a time and removing the occupants with a brush. We went for option 1 as it's too warm to use an escape board and the bee brush seemed to be asking for trouble. It was a really hot day, even though it was overcast, so we thought most of the bees would be out foraging.
This is what we got after only a few minutes after the fume board was installed. While the smell really drove the poor bees nuts, unfortunately it didn't really clear them off the honey frames as well as we'd expected, so we gave up after the first attempt. Kerstin ended up employing the brush method (number 3) for the remaining frames.
We loaded the frames into an empty hive body and wrapped it up with a plastic garbage bag to keep the bees out. In the end, we harvested 6 deep frames and 4 medium frames of honey from the 4 hives. Then we loaded our spoils into the car and drove to New Hampshire to my Dad's place. He already has a honey extractor and wax collector container, while we supplied the electric uncapping knife. He also took Alden for a sleepover the day before, freeing us up to work on hives at a leisurely pace.
We set up the extractor (the big metal canister shown here), which is really just a fancy centrifuge, in my Dad's garage. It was spacious, clean and tight enough to keep marauding bees at bay. We also cleaned out the harvesting tub, which is essentially a piece of wood over a two-tiered bin with a spigot at the bottom. Wax capping on the frame came off really nicely with the electric knife and fell in sheets into the bin below. Any honey that came with it was captured in the bottom bin after it passed through a course screen. The honey remaining in the uncapped frame went straight into the extractor, which my Dad bolted to a piece of particle board. With two people standing on the board, the operator of the extractor could manage to keep it stable during a fast spin, even when imbalanced.

It all went really smoothly. We had a 5 gallon pail to collect our honey, which ended up about two thirds full by the time all 10 frames were processed. Alden was somewhat interested in the process at first, but considerably more so after we made him the official taste tester.
Once he had his fill of honey, he really just wanted to hang out with my Dad's chickens, especially the new rooster.
Alden also spotted this amazing caterpillar on a grape leaf. We don't know who it is yet, but it was something none of us had ever seen before. It would attach its tail to the midrib of the leaf and when touched, it would lash around quickly, as if it were pretending to be a snake. It also had a really odd-looking raised, shiny marking that looked like a googly eyeball on its tail. If anyone knows what this creature is called, we'd sure appreciate an ID. UPDATE: It's an Abbott's Sphinx month larva.
We collected our wax (in the tupperware container on top of the pail), our honey and our child when it was all finished and drove back home. We filled our jars that night and tasted our very own honey for the first time. It's sweet and a little spicy, with a nice floral finish. Our final tally came in at 43 pounds, a little less than we were expecting, but still impressive for a first harvest. We'll need to wait a few days for all the air bubbles to come out after jarring, but after that we plan to distribute the honey. There will probably be a jar coming to a mailbox near you, so keep an eye out for it!

July 9, 2012

Alden Theme Song

Alden has taken to including theme music into much of what he does these days. Here he is appreciating the snails and ants he put in his bug-jar. 

July 8, 2012

3 Groundhogs in three days!

The groundhogs just keep on coming! It seems like they are late in arriving this year.

July 2, 2012

Bee Check

We checked out our bees today. We have been much less vigilant than last year and I think the bees are happier for that. The less we poke around the more work they can get done.
We have four hives now and each colony has its own personality, it is quite fascinating.
Beige hive = extremely hard working but a little cranky
Grey hive = medium hard working and very mellow
Green hive = medium hard working medium mellow
Purple hive = hard working and medium mellow

We were mostly looking for how much honey might be coming our way this year... maybe 40lbs so far. we plan to harvest sometime soon and then do a pest treatment. Mites are supposed to be really bad this year, and even though we have not been keeping track of pest we want to be on the safe side.

So the plan is to harvest what we have in the next week or two, treat for pests, and then put the honey supers back on for a possible second harvest in the fall.

July 1, 2012